Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog




Five Cancer Research Institute Scientists Recognized with Career Awards by The American Association of Immunologists

Five CRI-supported scientists were honored with AAI Career Awards

Coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Cancer Research Institute (CRI), the prestigious American Association of Immunologists (AAI) announced its 2023 Career Awards, and among the honorees were five scientists whose groundbreaking research has been supported and celebrated by CRI.

Lewis L. Lanier, PhD, of the University of California, San Francisco, received the AAI Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of a remarkable career of scientific achievement and contributions to AAI and the field of immunology. CRI has supported eight fellows in the lab of Dr. Lanier, a member of the CRI Scientific Advisory Council.

Hao Wu, PhD, of Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, received the AAI-Thermo Fisher Meritorious Career Award for exceptional research contributions to the field of immunology. CRI has supported sixteen fellows in the lab of Dr. Wu, a member of the CRI Scientific Advisory Council.

Shane Crotty, PhD, of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, received the AAI-BioLegend Herzenberg Award for outstanding contributions in the area of B cell biology. Dr. Crotty is a former CRI postdoctoral fellow.

Gregory F. Sonnenberg, PhD, of Weill Cornell Medicine, received the AAI-BD Biosciences Investigator Award for noteworthy, early-career achievement in immunology research. Dr. Sonnenberg is a former CRI CLIP investigator and is a current CRI Lloyd J. Old STAR.

Yasmine Belkaid headshot

Yasmine Belkaid, PhD, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, received the AAI Excellence in Mentoring Award in recognition of exemplary career contributions to a future generation of scientists. CRI has supported five fellows in Dr. Belkaid’s lab.

The contributions made by these scientists span diverse areas of immunology, many with implications for improving cancer care, and exemplify CRI’s history of supporting the best minds in the field.

“CRI has been unique in fostering the careers of many young immunologists with a passion for researching the role of the immune system in cancer,” said Dr. Lewis Lanier, whose discoveries into natural killer cells’ ability to recognize and eliminate cancer cells earned him the 2002 William B. Coley Award, CRI’s highest scientific honor. “My research lab and our contributions to cancer immunology have greatly benefited from CRI support of our fellows, many of whom have gone on to very successful careers.”

“I cannot imagine my lab without CRI support,” added Dr. Hao Wu, whose lab first received CRI funding in 1994. Calling CRI fellowships “an integral component” of her lab’s funding that she credited for her team’s groundbreaking discoveries into inflammasomes and gasdermins in innate immunity. This work earned her the 2022 Coley Award and has led to new cancer immunotherapy avenues to explore in the clinic.

In addition to research funds, Wu cited the career development benefits of joining the CRI community, including “the prestige and the opportunity to interact with experts in the field through the annual meetings.”

For example, Dr. Shane Crotty, whose CRI fellowship in the early 2000s explored how smallpox vaccines induce long-term immune memory via antibody-producing B cells. In 2019, he received CRI’s Frederick W. Alt Award for New Discoveries in Immunology and made significant contributions to understanding the immunological impact of COVID-19. With his B cell expertise, he led crucial studies that elucidated both natural and vaccine-induced immunity against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

This all-around support early in their careers allows young scientists “to develop high-risk projects while providing networking opportunities,” according to Dr. Yasmine Belkaid. “CRI is also one of the rare organizations that support fellows independently of their citizenship and, as such, is contributing to the growth of the next generation of scientific leaders in a truly inclusive manner.” (CRI has funded scientists from more than thirty countries.)

That inclusivity also applies to the science itself and exploring all the potential paths that could lead to better therapies for patients.

Belkaid, like Dr. Gregory Sonnenberg, focuses on one of the newer disciplines adopted into the cancer immunology fold: study of the microbiome. Their recognition reinforces the importance of funding scientists who are performing cutting-edge work. Vision like theirs will be crucial for cancer immunotherapy to take its next great leap and create cures for more patients.

Sonnenberg expressed gratitude to CRI for “providing essential support at two critical time windows,” first as a CLIP investigator and then as a Lloyd J. Old STAR. This funding allowed him to establish and then expand a platform to define how gut bacteria influence cancer immunotherapy’s effectiveness.

Regarding the STAR grant, which provides $1.25 million over five years, Sonnenberg praised the flexibility that is enabling him “to take substantial risks by creatively challenging existing paradigms.” Overall, he and Belkaid hope that tapping into the power of our microbiome and understanding the relationship between bacteria and immune cells will allow not only new ways to prevent, protect, or cure cancers, but also offer opportunities to improve medicine and healthcare in general, to help lessen the burden of a variety of diseases.

Watch our CRI webinar with Drs. Lewis Lanier and Oscar Aguilar, a CRI fellow in Dr. Lanier’s lab

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