V's Voice

Grateful Grants: Natural Talents

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In sports, we often talk about an athlete’s natural talents. We recruit college players in middle school and before an athlete has even taken the field for the season, we are talking about their draft potential. Sure, we recognize the athletes that put the work in and go the extra mile. But there is no escaping from the idea that, the natural talent- the natural abilities or skills that an athlete has to be great- are often just there. 

After spending some time with three researchers from UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, I think that the same natural abilities and skills can be said about scientists/researchers. Dr. Ian Davis and Dr. Jason Lieb both stated that working in research was something they knew they wanted to do as long as they can remember. Dr. Kimryn Rathmell said it was in college when she realized you could make discoveries- not just study them in a textbook.

And these amazing scientists are making discoveries. Recently, Dr. Davis, Dr. Lieb and Dr. Rathmell were awarded a 2012 Translational Grant from The V Foundation. One of the remarkable things is that each one of them was awarded a V Scholar grant earlier in their careers. Although their scientific paths have shared that common milestone, it is the differences between them that make their proposal come together so well.  Dr. Lieb is a basic scientist who has made important fundamental discoveries about how genes are regulated; Dr. Rathmell is a disease focused physician-scientist who studies the genetics of kidney cancer; and Dr. Davis, also a physician-scientist, bridges those two with a lab focused on understanding broadly how DNA packaging impacts cancer.  As I listened to each of scientists discuss what their research focus was, I was slowly able to see how the puzzle pieces could fit together . . .  and that this was probably one of those 5,000 piece puzzles that you can’t do alone.

Dr. Davis, Dr. Lieb and Dr. Rathmell hope that their 2012 Translational Grant can take a question and approach it from the entire spectrum of medical science. These scientists want to start with fundamental questions about gene packaging and how genes regulation plays a role in the development of cancer, and to understand what goes wrong with genes that can lead to cancer. They hope that this information will lead to new therapies and the ability to find drugs to reverse the whole process.

The patience of these three scientists with me while they explained this was tremendous…it’s a good thing to know that these are the same people treating patients and teaching our students. Congratulations to these scientists on their grant. I for one am excited to see where the next three years takes them.

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