At their recent meeting, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) named Jing Crystal Zhao, Ph.D. as a recipient of the 2012 AACR-Aflac Inc. Career Development Award for Pediatric Cancer Research. This award will allow Zhao and her research team to study the role of long non-coding RNA in gene regulation and the development of pediatric cancer.
The human genome encompasses all of our DNA, the recipe to make the proteins that in turn make up our cells. Yet our looks and health are determined by more factors than just the basic DNA recipe. One of these factors is non-coding RNA, pieces of genetic material that don’t encode a protein recipe at all, but instead help determine whether or not proteins are produced from other genes.
Long non-coding RNAs are of particular importance to childhood development, since their aberrant expression often leads to growth disorders predisposing children to tumors.
“We are very grateful to AACR and Aflac for this award,” said Zhao, assistant professor in the Sanford Children’s Health Research Center at Sanford-Burnham. “These funds will not only help us better understand how long non-coding RNAs control development and how their perturbation may contribute to pediatric cancer, but also to determine whether these molecules could serve as targets in cancer drug design.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, in the United States in 2007, approximately 10,400 children under age 15 were diagnosed with cancer and about 1,545 children died from their disease.