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Lurie Cancer Center Scientists Win Presidential Award

Prestigious honor recognizes research in nanotechnology and genome organization

July 2012

Two Lurie Cancer Center scientists have been awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor given by the United States government to outstanding scientists and engineers who are in the early stages of their independent research careers.

C. Shad Thaxton, MD, who is developing next-generation therapeutic nanoparticles for heart disease and cancer, and Steven Kosak, PhD, who studies the organization of genomes, are going to Washington D.C. next week to meet President Obama and attend an awards ceremony July 31 at the Natural History Museum. "Discoveries in science and technology not only strengthen our economy, they inspire us as a people," President Obama said. "The impressive accomplishments of today's awardees so early in their careers promise even greater advances in the years ahead."

Thaxton, Assistant Professor of Urology at the Feinberg School, was recognized for outstanding accomplishments in the field of nanoparticles-based diagnostics and therapeutics and for pioneering research on the synthesis of bio-inspired nanomaterials for toxin sequestration and cellular regulation.

Kosak, Assistant Professor in Cell and Molecular Biology, was recognized for his novel research into how the total DNA sequence of an organism (its genome) is non-randomly packaged within the nucleus.

C. Shad Thaxton
The presidential early career awards embody the high priority the Obama administration places on producing outstanding scientists and engineers to advance the nation's goals, tackle grand challenges and contribute to the American economy. Awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach. This year there are 96 recipients.

C. Shad Thaxton

Thaxton's research focuses on fabricating new nanomaterials and translational nanotechnology with an emphasis on nanoparticle-based molecular diagnostics and nanotherapeutics.

Thaxton has developed a method of synthesizing nanoparticles that mimic naturally occurring nanoparticles in the body. The synthetic target was high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) which are natural nanoparticles that have a number of biological functions, perhaps most well-known due to their ability to bind "good" cholesterol to remove it from the cells and tissues in the body where cholesterol accumulation may lead to, for example, heart attacks. The Thaxton lab formulated biomimetic nanoparticle high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) as potential therapeutic agents that function similarly to their natural counterparts and, one day, may be considered therapy to treat cholesterol build-up or to sequester other toxins that target similar cellular locations as cholesterol. Control over the synthesis of HDLs is enabling the group to better understand the particles' biological functions and how to change and manipulate the way the materials interact with cells. This understanding may pave the way to potent therapies for many disease processes beyond heart disease, such as cancer, where access of HDLs to specific cell types may be leveraged for targeted drug delivery.
Steven Kosak

Steven Kosak

Kosak's investigations have provided evidence that genomes are spatially organized according to nuclear functions, in particular the expression of genes.

Kosak's work indicates that the arrangement of the human genome varies according to cell type; for example, the genomic organization of a blood cell may be distinguishable from a muscle cell. His group is working to fully characterize the role self-organization -- a process in which localized gene networks yield an emergent order that feeds back and strengthens the original network -- plays during the differentiation of human stem cells. Kosak is currently focused on adapting these ideas to the development of next-generation diagnostic tools to facilitate the identification of cells involved in pathologies ranging from cancer to aging.

(Last updated on June 25, 2013 )