Fox Chase Cancer Center’s Johnathan Whetstine Receives a Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award

Dr. Johnathan R. Whetstine, director of the Cancer Epigenetics Institute at Fox Chase
Dr. Johnathan R. Whetstine, director of the Cancer Epigenetics Institute at Fox Chase

PHILADELPHIA (February 10, 2022)—Johnathan R. Whetstine, PhD, director of the Cancer Epigenetics Institute at Fox Chase Cancer Center, was recently honored with a Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). This five-year grant will fund fundamental research on DNA amplification and uncovering pathways that control it.

“Gene amplifications are associated with a number of diseases. This award will allow us to continue our research on how chromatin control impacts DNA copy gains. Our studies will provide molecular insights into copy number alterations while identifying therapeutic targets associated with amplification-driven diseases,” said Whetstine. 

“These studies are conducted in non-transformed cells in order to understand the biology driving these events, and then the data is linked to relevant cancers such as lung, ovarian, and colorectal,” he added.

Whetstine is a co-leader of the Cancer Signaling and Epigenetics research program at Fox Chase as well as the Jack Schultz Chair in Basic Science. His lab studies how chromatin factors control gene expression and genome stability. His group was the first to determine that specific chromatin regulators can promote site-specific extrachromosomal DNA copy gains.

He and colleagues are working towards providing additional insights into extrachromosomal DNA amplification generation and the associated diversity within cell populations, while also identifying biomarkers to both predict and target copy gain events driving human diseases. 

“Having peers review and select me for this grant recognition is gratifying. However, the best part is the recognition of our team’s contribution to this area, as well as the enthusiasm for the discoveries that happened and will occur in the next five years,” said Whetstine. 

MIRA grants are awarded based on peer reviews by a MIRA panel that evaluates the investigator and their contributions and leadership in the field. The aim of these grants is to provide funding for research in an investigator's laboratory that falls within the mission of NIGMS. The mission of NIGMS is to enhance productivity and the likelihood of important breakthroughs through essential funding.

“This grant allows flexibility to address amplification control, which is another key aspect of this award. We look forward to uncovering additional fundamental pathways promoting amplification in ‘normal’ cells so that we can ultimately identify novel biomarkers and therapeutic targets in aggressive and hard-to-reach cancers,” said Whetstine.

The grant was funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under award number R35GM144131.

Fox Chase Cancer Center (Fox Chase), which includes the Institute for Cancer Research and the American Oncologic Hospital and is a part of Temple Health, is one of the leading comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase is also one of just 10 members of the Alliance of Dedicated Cancer Centers. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence six consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach. It is the policy of Fox Chase Cancer Center that there shall be no exclusion from, or participation in, and no one denied the benefits of, the delivery of quality medical care on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, disability, age, ancestry, color, national origin, physical ability, level of education, or source of payment.

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