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Headshot of Yuliya Pylayeva-Gupta
UNC Lineberger’s Yuliya Pylayeva-Gupta, PhD.

The University of North Carolina named UNC Lineberger’s Yuliya Pylayeva-Gupta, PhD, one of four recipients of the Phillip and Ruth Hettleman Prize for Artistic and Scholarly Achievement, which recognizes faculty members who exemplify groundbreaking and innovative research along with future career promise.

The late Phillip Hettleman, a member of the Carolina class of 1921, and his wife Ruth established their prestigious named award in 1986 to recognize the achievements of outstanding junior faculty. The recipients of the $5,000 prize will be recognized at an upcoming Faculty Council Meeting and will deliver a presentation on their research Oct. 10 during University Research Week.

“It is an incredible honor to be recognized and acknowledged in this way by my UNC colleagues,” said Pylayeva-Gupta, who is an associate professor of genetics and a member of UNC Lineberger’s Pancreatic Cancer Center of Excellence. “Over the past seven or so years, my lab and I have poured our collective heart and soul into basic science discoveries to improve cancer immunotherapy approaches. Being selected for this prestigious award is especially meaningful as it fuels my passion to pursue novel avenues of research that will eventually help cancer patients.”

Pylayeva-Gupta is internationally recognized for her research on pancreatic cancer, specifically pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, which is one of the deadliest and most difficult to treat of all cancers.

Her lab is studying approaches to reverse the immunosuppressive pancreatic cancer tumor microenvironment. Specifically, they are focused on how the immune system is subverted to aid pancreatic cancer growth, metastasis and insensitivity to immunotherapy.

“She has done a remarkable job laying the groundwork for success in all aspects of her role as a faculty member. She has distinguished herself scientifically, devising important and timely research directions in a deadly disease which is increasing in incidence,” UNC Lineberger Director Shelley Earp, MD, wrote in a joint nomination letter for Pylayeva-Gupta. “She has built her laboratory team with talented trainees whom she has mentored effectively, paying attention to their personal and professional development. She is an effective educator and a caring mentor.”

Pylayeva-Gupta has published seven peer-reviewed research articles on work done in her lab at UNC-Chapel Hill, as well as two reviews and one invited editorial. She also has two research articles in press at Cell Reports Medicine and at Nature. Her research has been supported by the V Foundation for Cancer Research, the American Cancer Society, AACR, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Concern Foundation for Cancer Research, the Mark Foundation for Cancer Research, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the National Cancer Institute.

In addition to Pylayeva-Gupta, the other Hettleman Prize awardees are Danielle Christmas, associate professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature; Seth A. Berkowitz, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine; and Frank Leibfarth, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry.