Researchers receive $4 million for exceptional junior scientists

Two Mount Sinai cancer researchers will receive $4 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Common Fund, which supports research by junior scientists around the United States. This will fund radiation oncology and CAR T cell cancer therapy research. 

Deborah Marshall, Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at The Tisch Cancer Institute and The Blavatnik Family Women’s Health Research Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Jalal Ahmed Khan, Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at the Precision Immunology Institute and The Tisch Cancer Institute, each received an Early Independence Award worth $2 million given out over five years. The NIH Early Independence Award, established in 2011, provides an opportunity for junior scientists to skip traditional postdoctoral training and move immediately into independent research positions. 

Dr Marshall’s study seeks to define novel predictors of female sexual dysfunction and to identify quantitative imaging and microbiome-based biomarker indices associated with damage to specific sexual organs from radiation oncology treatments. Results of the study will rapidly provide transformative data and inform innovative, personalized interventions to preserve female sexual function or mitigate the effects of radiation in this understudied population. 

Dr Ahmed Khan’s study seeks to advance the cancer therapy known as chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy for solid tumors by manipulating CAR T cell interactions with the immune tumour microenvironment. CAR T cell therapy involves the transfer of hundreds of millions of tumor-specific T cells into a patient, some of which travel to the tumour site where they interact with target as well as nontarget cells that make up the tumour microenvironment. The lab will use tumour models to understand the parametres driving the activity and fate of CAR T cells, and design novel CAR T cell therapies that capitalise on the immunobiology of solid tumors to form durable anti-tumour responses. 

“The science put forward by this cohort is exceptionally novel and creative and is sure to push at the boundaries of what is known,” said Francis Collins, NIH Director, of the grants given out in October to scientists at all career stages through NIH’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program. “These visionary investigators come from a wide breadth of career stages and show that groundbreaking science can happen at any career level given the right opportunity.” 

In addition to providing advanced radiotherapy to a diverse population of cancer patients, Dr Marshall directs a laboratory aiming to advance the understanding of the impacts of radiotherapy on sexual function in women and female-bodied cancer patients across the lifespan. The lab applies radiobiologic, imaging, and multi-omic methods in human research to prevent and mitigate the effects of radiotherapy on sexual function and improve quality of life after cancer treatment. 

Dr Ahmed Khan leads the Ahmed Khan lab, which is part of the interdisciplinary Precision Immunology Institute and The Tisch Cancer Institute at Icahn Mount Sinai. The lab is recruiting student and postdoctoral researchers in immunology and immunotherapy. 

Image credit: Josh Appel

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