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This year’s recipients of The Joseph S. Pagano Award are Rajarshi Choudhury, PhD, Rui Lu, PhD, and George Souroullas, PhD.

UNC Lineberger Director Emeritus Joseph Pagano, MD.

Three UNC Lineberger postdoctoral fellows have won The Joseph S. Pagano Award this year for work on outstanding scientific papers published in 2016.

The award is named for Joseph Pagano, MD, UNC Lineberger director emeritus and Lineberger Professor of Cancer Research, thanks to a gift from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. It was established in 2002 to recognize noteworthy papers authored by the UNC Lineberger’s postdoctoral fellows. Pagano has directed the center’s postdoctoral training program since its inception 42 years ago.

“Our fellows continue to make significant contributions to cancer research that provide new insights into the many aspects of cancer, some of which may help us to better understand this disease, and offer new ways to treat specific cancers,” Pagano said.

This year’s recipients are Rajarshi Choudhury, PhD, Rui Lu, PhD, and George Souroullas, PhD. Each received a $2,500 prize.

Choudhury, who has accepted a position with GlaxoSmithKline, worked in the lab of Michael J. Emanuele, PhD, UNC Lineberger member and assistant professor in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Pharmacology. Choudhury was honored for his Cell Reports paper, “APC/C and SCFcyclin F Constitute a Reciprocal Feedback Circuit Controlling S-Phase Entry.” He made important contributions to the understanding of the Anaphase Promoting Complex, an enzyme that is involved in preventing the cell from moving into the division phase. He discovered a novel substrate for APC, Cyclin F, but also showed that Cyclin F can also play a role in a feedback loop top shut down APC to allow cells to move toward division.

“I can say, without reservation, that inviting Raj to join my lab was the best decision I have made since moving to UNC,” Emanuele said in his nomination letter.

Lu has worked since 2012 as a postdoctoral associate in the lab of G. Greg Wang, PhD, UNC Lineberger member and assistant professor in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics. Lu was honored for his Cancer Cell paper, “Epigenetic Perturbations by Arg882-Mutated DNMT3A Potentiate Aberrant Stem Cell Gene-Expression Program and Acute Leukemia Development.” Studies have shown that the DNMT3A gene is one of the top three most frequently mutated genes in human hematological malignancies. Lu’s work has helped to provide a better understanding how mutations in DNMT3A contribute to malignant blood cell development, and it also provides a new path to for therapy.

“In brief, Dr. Rui Lu is an exceptionally outstanding postdoctoral researcher who will soon be ready to launch on his own independent PI career,” Wang said in his nomination.

Souroullas joined the lab of Norman Sharpless, MD, former director of UNC Lineberger and Wellcome Distinguished Professor Research, in 2010. Souroullas was honored for his Nature Medicine paper, “An oncogenic Ezh2 mutation induces tumors through global redistribution of histone 3 lysine 27 trimethylation.” His work has largely focused on how tumor suppressor molecules are regulated by changes in DNA shape and accessibility. The Nature Medicine study explores how mutations in the gene coding for EZH2, an enzyme that can change the accessibility of DNA, helps drive lymphoma. They collaborated to develop and test a small-molecule inhibitors for EZH2.

“This project would never have taken place in my lab without George,” Sharpless said in his nomination. “The Pagano Award perfectly reflects his accomplishments in my lab,” he added.