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Two NYU Scientists Named Howard Hughes Medical Institute's early career scientists
Mar 26, 2009 - 3:59:36 AM

Two researchers from NYU School of Medicine have been named Early Career Scientists by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). The honorees, Iannis Aifantis, Ph.D. associate professor of pathology, co-director of the Cancer Stem Cell Program at the NYU Cancer Institute and Jeremy S. Dasen Ph.D., assistant professor of physiology and neuroscience at NYU School of Medicine are among 50 of the nation's top scientists being honored by HHMI under this new initiative to establish, develop and grow unique research programs.

Dr. Aifantis, a cancer biologist investigating T-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia, a common form of leukemia in children and Dr. Dasen, a neuroscientist investigating the molecular code that helps developing motor neurons in the spinal cord connect with the muscles they control, will both receive a six-year appointment to the HHMI and funding to further explore their areas of research. HHMI will provide each NYU researcher with his full salary, benefits, and a research budget of $1.5 million over six-years.

The entire NYU Langone Medical Center community is proud of the groundbreaking work being conducted by Dr. Aifantis and Dr. Dasen and we congratulate them on their selection as HHMI Early Career Scientists, said Robert I. Grossman, M.D., Dean and CEO of NYU Langone Medical Center. These awards are recognition of the immense talent of these two scientists and the importance of the work that they are pursuing.

Dr. Aifantis has made majors strides towards understanding and developing new treatments for T-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia. He recently discovered a molecular door by which T cells, the soldiers of the immune system, slip into spinal fluid and the brain after they become malignant. Blocking this process could save thousands of lives each year. Aifantis is now testing hundreds of potential drugs that might prevent malignant T cells from reaching the nervous system. At the same time, he is learning what goes awry in blood stem cells that transform into leukemic T cells. Such insights may provide even more ways to combat deadly blood cancers.

Dr. Dasen's research focuses on deciphering the molecular code that helps developing motor neurons in the spinal cord connect with the muscles they control. Understanding this code, which relies on a large family of genes that produce proteins called Hox factors, may help scientists restore motor neuron function in people whose spinal cords have been damaged by trauma or disease. Dasen, has found that Hox proteins are not just present in motor neurons; they are pervasive throughout the nervous system. He plans to explore whether Hox proteins in interneurons and sensory neurons, which control motor neuron firing patterns and transmit feedback about muscle action, help assemble the complete circuits that control walking and running.

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