PHILADELPHIA (February 14, 2020) – Edna Cukierman, PhD, co-director of the Marvin & Concetta Greenberg Pancreatic Cancer Institute at Fox Chase Cancer Center, has been named a fellow of the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA).
“It is very satisfying to be recognized as a clinically relevant scientist. When I started my training I never foresaw this,” said Cukierman, who is also an associate professor in the Cancer Biology program.
AGA is the oldest and most prestigious medical society dedicated to disorders of the gastrointestinal tract in the United States. Through its fellowship program, AGA honors superior professional achievement in clinical, private, or academic practice and in basic or clinical research. Inducted fellows are AGA members whose accomplishments and contributions demonstrate personal commitment to the field of gastroenterology.
Cukierman has been a member of AGA since 2010. Her induction as a fellow is notable because historically AGA has been a medical association. Cukierman is not a medical doctor, but she joined AGA in order to better understand the medical side of gastroenterology.
Over the 17 years that she has worked at Fox Chase, Cukierman’s research has become increasingly translational in nature. “I take into consideration what is needed in the clinic to better focus our research approach,” she said. “It’s an honor being a PhD recognized by a mostly medical association, because that means they think the work my team is doing in the basic side could be impactful on MDs’ practice.”
Cukierman credits the vision and culture at Fox Chase with making it easy to collaborate across disciplines and pursue translational research. “It’s because of the type of institute that Fox Chase is that MDs will go to basic talks, and the basic scientists will go to seminars that are medical, and slowly and surely we will talk to each other and truly collaborate, which is unusual.”
Cukierman’s research focuses on pancreatic cancer, specifically the fibrous scar tissue cells that make up most of the tumor microenvironment of the pancreas and influence how tumors develop and grow. The tumor microenvironment comprises normal cells, secreted molecules, blood vessels, and other components that surround tumor cells.
She and her team are focusing on the pancreas because the expansion of these types of tumor-adjacent cells is most pronounced in pancreatic cancer, which is a devastating disease. The aim of her research is to find a way to change, rather than destroy, the tumor microenvironment in order to stall the progression of the cancer.
The reason for this is that the tumor mass is similar to a niche in ecology or an ecological system: “If you get rid of one species, you select for another species that can take over faster. If you get rid of the fibrous cells, the cancer becomes super aggressive.”
Cukierman has received numerous awards and grants for her work. In January she received a large two-year grant from the prestigious charity Worldwide Cancer Research, and she has been consistently funded by the National Cancer Institute since 2004. In addition, she was recently elected to the council of the American Society for Matrix Biology.
She is an active member of various professional organizations, including the American Association for Cancer Research and the American Society of Cell Biology, and serves as scientific editor of several journals, including Matrix Biology.