Mar 09, 2020 10:00 AM

Author: Carley Lehauli

Aria Vaishnavi, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah (U of U) has received the first annual National Cancer Institute (NCI) Pathway to Independence Award for Outstanding Early Stage Postdoctoral Researchers (K99/R00). The “Early K99” grant supports researchers who need only a short period of training and mentorship after their doctoral degrees and before they’re hired into a faculty position.

“This award is a recognition of Dr. Vaishnavi’s talents, abilities, and achievements both as a graduate student at the University of Colorado and as a postdoctoral fellow at HCI,” says Vaishnavi’s mentor and trainer at HCI, Martin McMahon, PhD. “I am delighted and proud that Dr. Vaishnavi is the recipient of this award and very much look forward to helping her develop a successful career as an independent cancer researcher.”

With this grant, Vaishnavi will research how cancer-promoting pathways allow a small number of lung cancer cells to remain in the body. These lingering cells are known as minimal residual disease (MRD), which Vaishnavi will study by treating mice with the same drugs that are used to treat lung cancer in the clinic.

This type of MRD analysis will increase our understanding of how to target and eliminate the cancer cells that remain in the patient during and after treatment. Potentially, patients could be then rendered cured of disease.

“Receiving this award is such an honor,” says Vaishnavi. “I have been so fortunate in my career with having excellent mentors and training opportunities at each step, and I wouldn’t have been competitive without the help from all of those mentors, especially Dr. McMahon. This award will significantly help me to transition into a faculty position, and get started in accomplishing the research I proposed in this application.”

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About Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah

Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah is the official cancer center of Utah and the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Mountain West. The campus includes a state-of-the-art cancer specialty hospital and two buildings dedicated to cancer research. Huntsman Cancer Institute provides patient care, cancer screening, and education at community clinics and affiliate hospitals throughout the Mountain West. It is consistently recognized among the best cancer hospitals in the country by U.S. News and World Report. The region’s first proton therapy center opened in 2021 and a major hospital expansion is underway. Huntsman Cancer Institute is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive environment for staff, students, patients, and communities. Advancing cancer research discoveries and treatments to meet the needs of patients who live far away from a major medical center is a unique focus. More genes for inherited cancers have been discovered at Huntsman Cancer Institute than at any other cancer center, including genes responsible for breast, ovarian, colon, head and neck cancers, and melanoma. Huntsman Cancer Institute was founded by Jon M. and Karen Huntsman.

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