CTF Young Investigator Award

CTF’s longest running program, YIA provides two-year awards for young scientists early in their careers, bringing them into the NF field and helping to establish them as independent investigators. Implemented over 30 years ago by the Foundation, the YIA program was until 2006 CTF’s sole ongoing grant mechanism. Click here for Applicant Eligibility Guidelines. 

Though a number of YIAs have made significant research findings and made notable publications the main function of the YIA program has been as a ‘seeding mechanism’ for researchers who went on to secure larger grants from NIH and CDMRP NFRP. CTF’s “seeding” of the NF field with new talent has been hailed as a key reason why NF research has grown rapidly in the past 25+ years. Between 2005 and 2008 the YIA program doubled in size from 5 to 10 funded awards (8 postdoctoral and 2 predoctoral). In the same period number of applications submitted increased from 16 (2005) to 34 (2008). The success rate of this program remains extraordinarily high at around 30%. CTF funded 11 YIAs in 2012 and 9 YIAs in 2013 with grants ranging from $64,000 to $108,000 each. The submission window for the Young Investigator Awards opens in January each year. 

2014 YOUNG INVESTIGATOR AWARD RECIPIENTS

POST DOCTORAL RECIPIENTS

Chung-Ping Liao, PhD., University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center
Tumor microenvironment and stem cell factor contributions in neurofibroma development
Dr. Liao is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Lu Le, at the University of Texas Southwestern.  Dr. Le studied with Dr. Luis Parada there, and has now established his own independent research lab.  His project will use Nf1 mouse models to better understand the cell microenvironment conducive to neurofibroma development, including the role of a growth factor called stem cell factor.  Better knowledge about the influences in the tissue surrounding neurofibroma cells may lead to new therapeutic targets and strategies. 
 
Manuel Lopez-Arnada, PhD., University of California, Los Angeles
The possible role of immune activation in autism phenotypes in NF1
Dr. Lopez-Aranda is a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Alcino Silva, at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Silva is an established neuroscience investigator who performs basic and clinical research in NF1-related learning.  In this project, to test a new hypothesis, the role of the immune system will be examined in NF1 patients who also have features of autism.  If they find a link, it opens a line of research to consider therapies that modulate the immune system, as a potential intervention in children with NF1 that are on the autism spectrum. 
 
Krishna Chinthalapudi, PhD., Scripps Research institute
Lipid-Directed Control of Merlin Tumor Suppressor Functions
Krishna Chinthalapudi, PhD is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Tina Izard, a researcher at the Scripps Research Institute.  Dr. Izard is relatively new to the NF2 field, bringing her expertise in cell biology in merlin-related pathways.  This project will examine the role of lipids in controlling merlin’s functions, which may shed light on possible new therapeutic targets and approaches for NF2. 
 
Susana Moleirinho, PhD. Scripps Research Institute
Identification of novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of NF2
Susana Moleirinho, PhD is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Joseph Kissil, a well-known NF2 scientist at the Scripps Research Institute in Florida.  Dr. Moleirinho’s research is a translational study to identify new drugable targets in NF2 tumors. She will focus on three kinase proteins whose expression is altered in merlin-null cells, likely promoting their uncontrolled division.  She will test the effectiveness of drugs known to inhibit these kinases, on tumor formation in Nf2 mouse models.

PREDOCTORAL RECIPIENTS

Clare Malone, Brigham & Women’s Hospital
Identifying novel drug combinations that target cancer cell vulnerabilities in malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors
Clare Malone is a graduate student with Dr. Karen Cichowski, a well-established NF1 investigator at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.  Ms. Malone’s thesis project is focusing on finding drug combinations that can best kill MPNST cells, based on understanding of altered pathways in these tumors.  Her work will involve study of cell lines as well as testing in mouse models.  Since single agents are not proving very effective for NF1 patients with MPNST, effective combinations need to be investigated. 
 
Mariska van Lier, Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience
Altered Critical Period for Ocular Dominance Plasticity in Heterozygous NF1 Mutant Mice
Mariska van Lier is a graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Christiaan Levelt, at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience in Amsterdam (and new to the NF field).  Ms. van Lier’s project will study the critical period of neuronal plasticity in mutant Nf1 using synapse development in the visual cortex as a model. The hypothesis is that the critical period in Nf1 mice closes too soon compared to wild type mice.  If true, they will investigate environmental and pharmaceutical interventions that could modulate this period, and this will also lead to investigations of this phenomenon in children with NF1.
 
Robert J. Allaway, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College
Characterizing novel therapeutics that exhibit synthetic lethality with NF1-associated tumors
Robert J. Allaway is a graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Yolanda Sanchez, a relatively new NF investigator, at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.  His thesis project used a system called a synthetic lethal screen that his lab developed with Dr. Nancy Ratner, to identify compounds that will only kill neurofibromin-deficient cells.  His preliminary work in NF1 tumor cells identified several lead pathways/compounds.  His YIA work will further investigate the effectiveness of these compounds in mouse models, as well as dissect the mechanisms involved in the cell death. 
 
Jiajie Xu, University of Chicago
Investigating functional interactions between Merlin, apical polarity proteins and their regulation of the Hippo signaling pathway
Jiajie Xu is a graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Rick Fehon, an established NF2 investigator at the University of Chicago.  The project will utilize the power of the Drosophila (fruit fly) genetically-malleable system to gain new information about the function of the merlin protein in growth. The study will focus on merlin’s role in responding to signals from proteins that orient the cell, and transmitting those signals through the Hippo pathway to affect gene expression.  Understanding more details about merlin’s functional partners will fuel development of novel tumor therapies.  


Guidelines and Terms of Award

Founded in 1978, the Children's Tumor Foundation is a non-profit organization committed to identifying effective drug therapies for neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2) and Schwannomatosis, and to improving the lives of those living with these disorders. There is currently no effective drug treatment for any of these disorders (collectively called NF), which affect an estimated 100,000 persons in the US. Since its inception, the Children’s Tumor Foundation has committed over $30 million to research grants and initiatives, supporting scientists around the world to conduct groundbreaking NF research.

Past Recipients

2013 POSTDOCTORAL AWARDEES

Lu Zhou, Peninsula School of Medicine and Dentistry, UK
KSR1 as a Potential Therapeutic Target for Both NF1 and NF2
NF1 patients can develop plexiform neurofibromas (benign tumors that grow along nerves) which can become malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors (MPNST) in 10% of cases. NF2 patients are likely to develop tumors of the Schwann cells called schwannomas, which lead to significant medical problems. Currently, there is no approved drug therapy for these complications of NF1 and NF2. This project will use cell cultures to explore the tumor-suppressing activity of Kinase Suppressor of Ras 1 (KSR1) as a new approach for the treatment of both NF1 and NF2.

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