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Wistar Science Highlights: Op-Ed about Potential Impact of NIH Cuts, Award for Vaccine Excellence, New Role for RNA Editing Protein Discovered
Ben Leach

In the past month, scientists from The Wistar Institute have used their knowledge to not only highlight the critical need for continued research funding as discussions in Washington over new budgets continue but also to push science forward with new discoveries. They were also recognized for excellence in vaccine research.

Leaders from PA Cancer Centers Pen Op-Ed about Impact of Proposed NIH Budget Cuts

In an op-ed published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, leaders from cancer centers across the state of Pennsylvania came unified voice to stress the devastating impact the proposed budget reduction would have on biomedical research and health care.

Dario C. Alteri, M.D., President and CEO of The Wistar Institute, teamed up with leaders at Fox Chase Cancer Center, Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, and The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Cancer Center to address the impact of proposed cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget for biomedical research.

Together wrote that, if enacted, the proposed NIH budget cuts “will slow research, deprive patients afflicted with cancer of hope, and deliver a devastating blow to our science work force and the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Click here to read the full op-ed, titled “Proposed cuts to NIH will be a devastating blow to medicine.”

Weiner Lab Receives Vaccine Excellence Award

Each year, the Vaccine Industry Excellence (VIE) Awards recognizes the outstanding scientific contributions of leaders, laboratories and companies in the vaccine industry who have demonstrated or exceeded a standard of excellence.

For the third year in a row, the lab of David Weiner, Ph.D., Executive Vice President of The Wistar Institute, Director of the Wistar Vaccine Center, and the W.W. Smith Charitable Trust Professor in Cancer Research, made an impressive showing. This year, the lab received the “Highly Commended” award in the “Best Academic Research Team” category during the 10th Annual VIE Awards ceremony.

The Weiner lab focuses on the development of DNA-based vaccines, which offer a number of advantages over traditional approaches, including higher stability, improved safety due to the absence of any infectious agent, and the possibility for large-scale manufacturing at a lower cost. Currently, they are investigating vaccines for a variety of infectious diseases including the Zika virus.

New Function for RNA Editing Protein in Protecting Stressed Cells from Automatic Death

Similar to DNA, RNA is a type of molecule that encodes our genes. A protein called ADAR1 is involved in “RNA editing,” a process by which small changes can be made to RNA nucleotide sequences even after they’ve been generated.

Now, scientists at The Wistar Institute have identified a new function for the protein: It stops cells that have been exposed to stressors such as ultraviolet (UV) radiation from dying. The new research shows that ADAR1p110 regulates the response of cells to certain stressors, including UV radiation, by protecting them from dying as a result of a process called apoptosis, a form of programmed cell death.

“We were surprised to find that this form of the ADAR1 protein has an important biological role as a stress-response protein, and that this function is independent of its ability to edit RNA,” said Kazuko Nishikura, Ph.D., professor in the Gene Expression and Regulation Program at The Wistar Institute and senior author of the study.  “Now that we have a well-defined function for this protein, we can work to understand its role in postnatal development and disease, in particular cancer.”