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Funding Basic Research to Build a Better Future

August 18, 2020

"We've made enormous progress against cancer, and Cancer Research Institute postdoctoral fellows have been a major contributing factor to that success," said Ellen Puré, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania, who serves as an associate director of the CRI Scientific Advisory Council and chair of the committee that reviews applicants to the CRI Irvington Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. This program supports young scientists whose research on the fundamentals of our immune system and its relationship to cancer provides the building blocks for complex immune-based cancer treatments.

Dr. Ellen Pure at CICON19
Ellen Puré at CICON19

"CRI supported cancer immunology research when many people didn't think it would have clinical application," noted Puré, a nod to the more than 1,400 scientists who have received fellowship funding from CRI since the program was established in 1971. 

"Despite the field's exponential growth over the last decade, CRI is still the organization people think of when they think of cancer immunology. We've been able to maintain an impact, not just because we historically did this, but also by evolving what we fund. This program may not be the flashiest, but it is core to CRI's mission to attract the best scientists to the field and support them," Puré shared. 

Even so, CRI fellows have achieved some flashy accomplishments, such as Linda Buck, Ph.D., who later won the Nobel Prize. In fact, a recent anaylsis of CRI fellows' work shows they are significantly more impactful than their peers. Their papers are cited at a rate three times higher than the field average, and roughly half of CRI fellows become faculty members, more than eight times higher than average for postdoctoral researchers. 

"Our singular focus is and has been to identify young talented scientists who bring a fresh look to fundamentally important questions," explained Puré, who joined the Fellowship Review Committee in 1988. "We support them as they seek to launch their careers and are at their most creative. They're in an excellent environment with a sponsor who will enable them to build their credibility and experience and help them live up to their potential."

In response to the disruptive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer researchers, CRI is helping the most vulnerable members of its scientific community—postdoctoral fellows at the beginning of their careers—by providing a funding extension of up to six months to fellows whose terms were due to end between May and December of 2020. As a result, thanks to generous support from our donors, 23 fellows will have a much-needed safety net to help them complete their important work and transition into their next career stage. 

"Such a gesture is testiment to CRI's ongoing dedication to research and researchers, and demonstrates a true understanding of the broad and deep impact the COVID-19 pandemic measures have made on the scientific endeavor," said Elizabeth M. Steinert, Ph.D., a fellow at the Northwestern University lab of Navdeep S. Chandel, Ph.D. 

Dr. Jill O'Donnell-Tormey and Fellows at CICON19
Dr. Jill O'Donnell-Tormey and CRI Fellows at CICON19

CRI not only supports these great young minds with funding, but also connects them with a global network of immunologists and cancer immunologysts, allowing them to integrate new discoveries, produce groundbreaking research, and drive real innovation with long-term impact. 

"CRI fellows aim for more than making little tweaks that result in only incremental improvements," stressed Puré. "We can't tweak our way toward cures for all patients. We need the kind of new, tranformative discoveries CRI fellows are making. It's very exciting to be part of that."

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