Two researchers honored as top university innovators for 2010

Eugene W. Gerner, PhD
Eugene W. Gerner, PhD

Two Arizona Cancer Center researchers were honored March 23 by the University of Arizona with the 2010 Technology Innovation Awards. The Technology Innovation Award is given annually in recognition of exemplary innovative achievements in translating original ideas from the laboratory to the marketplace.

Eugene W. Gerner, PhD, professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy, Director of the Arizona Cancer Center’s Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancer program and BIO5 Institute member, is the Technology Innovation Award winner.

Samantha Kendrick, a final-year PhD candidate in the Cancer Center’s Cancer Biology Graduate Interdisciplinary Program, is the Student Technology Innovation Award winner. She is the first female recipient among either faculty or student top honorees in the program’s seven-year history.

Dr. Gerner, a UA faculty member since 1974, was honored for his development of a two-drug combination shown to reduce the risk of recurrent colorectal polyps, a precursor to colon cancer, by up to 95 percent with minimal toxicity.

Dr. Gerner is a co-founder of Cancer Prevention Pharmaceuticals, established to develop therapies to prevent cancer in people with elevated risks for the diseases. He also leads the Cancer Center’s prestigious federally funded Specialized Program of Research Excellence in GI cancers. He was named a 2009 Leading Edge Researcher during last year’s Innovation Day events.

Kendrick SamanthaKendrick’s cancer research led to a major discovery in the BIO5 lab of Laurence Hurley, PhD, of a new class of drug receptors and a lead compound. Kendrick’s dissertation project, chemo-sensitization by modulation of Bcl-2 expression, provides a new molecular target for treatment of cancers such as lymphomas that have become resistant to chemotherapy.

Kendrick has also shown that a compound she identified resensitized drug-resistant tumor breast and lymphoma cancer cells to other clinically used drugs, a discovery that will benefit cancer patients who have drug-resistant tumors. Her work is supported by the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Biology Training Grant, which has supported predoctoral and postdoctoral training at the Arizona Cancer Center for more than 32 years.

“I believe this is one of the most important discoveries to come out of my lab. Identifying a new class of drug receptors and a lead compound is a rare event,” said Dr. Hurley, professor and the Howard Schaeffer Endowed Chair in Pharmaceutical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy and BIO 5 member.

“Clearly, these are two exceptionally talented and innovative scientists, who have dedicated themselves to developing novel and molecularly targeted ways to approach both cancer prevention and cancer treatment,” said David Alberts, AZCC director, Regents Professor of Medicine, Pharmacology, Nutritional Sciences and Public Health and BIO5 member. “Investigators in the Arizona Cancer Center have developed 16 biopharmaceutical-type companies over the past 20-plus years. The products that these companies produce will have a huge impact on Arizona.”

Rainer W.G. Gruessner, MD, professor and chairman of the UA College of Medicine’s Department of Surgery, associate professor of Clinical Medicine, and AZCC member, was among the 2010 Leading Edge Researchers also honored at Innovation Day at the UA. He was honored for his research focused on all types of abdominal organ transplants as well as pancreas islet cell transplants to restore insulin production in patients who have had their pancreas removed, reducing or eliminating their risk for acquiring severe diabetes.

The event celebrates the UA’s success in technology development and innovation by highlighting the research achievements of students, staff and faculty.

“The Technology Innovation Awards provide an opportunity for the university to acknowledge faculty entrepreneurs who have created technology companies that benefit our economy,” said Bruce Wright, associate vice president for University Research Parks. “By recognizing faculty who have successfully balanced their roles as researcher and entrepreneur we can mentor and encourage emerging faculty entrepreneurs to take the same risks as today’s recipient.”

Arizona Cancer Center members honored previously with the Technology Innovation Award include Victor Hruby, PhD, Regents Professor of Chemistry, 2009; Laurence Hurley, PhD, Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology and BIO5 Institute member, 2007; and Thomas M. Grogan, MD, Professor of Medicine, 2004.