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The Chern Memorial Award Supports a New Generation of Wistar Trainees
Ben Leach

Just like she has done every year for the past 26 years, June Chern traveled from California to Philadelphia to present the 2017 Ching Jer Chern Memorial Award, which honors the memory of her husband by supporting Wistar postdoctoral scientists.

Ching Jer Chern, Ph.D., was a Wistar scientist working on cancer genetics from 1974 to his premature death in 1987. In 1989, June created an award to honor his scientific legacy by recognizing the postdoctoral trainee that has authored the best scientific manuscript over the past year.

The Chern Memorial Award has become a prestigious and very competitive appointment for Wistar postdocs, and at the 2016 ceremony, June announced that she was going to further her commitment towards Wistar by establishing a fellowship to support foreign postdocs. Wistar scientists come from all over the world, and foreign trainees are often not eligible to apply for federal grants and other sources of funding available to American citizens, so the Chern fellowship represents a special opportunity for these early-career researchers.

Yongkang Zou, Ph.D., and Kyoung Dong Kim, Ph.D., were selected by Wistar’s Trainee Committee respectively as the first Chern postdoctoral fellow and this year’s Chern Memorial Award recipient.

June, along with family members, friends, and colleagues from Farmers Insurance who contributed to the fellowship fund listened with great interest to the two awardees presenting an overview of their projects, through which they are carrying forward Wistar science and the Chern legacy.

Zou is a postdoc in the laboratory of Qing Chen, M.D., Ph.D., and her project focuses on the role played by a type of brain cell called astrocytes in the process of brain metastasis, which is disabling, resistant to treatment and highly lethal to cancer patients. Zou’s work shows that astrocytes make the brain microenvironment favorable to metastasis by protecting cancer cells from cell death while also promoting their growth. The ultimate goal of this project is to develop a tumor microenvironment-based therapy to specifically treat brain metastasis.

Kim, a postdoc in the laboratory of Ken-ichi Noma, Ph.D., authored the awarded paper that was published in the journal Nature Genetics in August 2016. This work showed how two key proteins, called condensin and cohesin, mediate the structural organization of chromosomes. The paper adds an important piece to the puzzle of the three-dimensional structure of our genome and how it influences key functions like DNA transcription, replication and repair. Mutations occurring in these structural proteins can disrupt chromatin organization and segregation as our cells divide and can cause genetic diseases and cancer. If you want to find out more on this study, you can read Wistar’s press release about the paper here