2016 Award Recipient:                                  Mark W. Zimmerman, PhD

Dr. Zimmerman’s research focuses on neuroblastoma, a particularly devastating cancer that strikes very young children. The median age of these cancer patients is just seventeen months – they are infants, toddlers, and grade school children. High risk neuroblastoma has few effective treatments, and the disease accounts for 15% of all childhood cancer deaths.

Dr. Zimmerman’s interest in cancer began as a biochemistry student at the Rochester Institute of Technology where he became fascinated with the mechanisms by which normal cells become malignant. Later, during his post-doctoral work at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, he visited the Jimmy Fund Clinic where children were undergoing chemotherapy, and was deeply moved by the need for research into better pediatric treatments. As a result, he decided to focus his post-doctoral efforts on pediatric oncology.

Dr. Zimmerman’s current project, Elucidating the mechanism of CHD5-mediated tumor suppression in neuroblastoma, seeks to understand the function of a particular family of genes, called the MYC oncogenes, that have been found to play a role in malignancy.  MYC functions as a master regulatory gene, working in concert with various enzymes and transcription factors to direct gene expression.  Dr. Zimmerman has already identified how an insufficiency of the enzyme CHD5 accelerates tumor growth in a zebrafish model of neuroblastoma by enabling MYC to overcome rate-limiting constraints on cell proliferation. Using a combination of innovative computational and biochemical methods, he is now defining and validating the core transcriptional unit essential for neuroblastoma cell survival and the transcriptional circuitry that emerges from it. With this knowledge, we may ultimately be able to develop targeted therapeutics to shut down the circuits necessary for the cancer to grow.

We are fortunate to have as our first award recipient such a gifted scientist who is also dedicated to saving the lives of children with cancer. 

Read the transcript of the award presentation to Dr. Zimmerman.