Arul Chinnaiyan

An Indian American researcher at the University of Michigan, Arul Chinnaiyan (center), has been honored with the Outstanding Investigator Award by the U.S. National Cancer Institute. (University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center photo)

WASHINGTON — The University of Michigan Sept. 10 announced that Dr. Arul Chinnaiyan, the director of the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology and S.P. Hicks Professor of Pathology at the University of Michigan Medical School, has been awarded $6.5 million in funds to help identify cancer biomarkers.

The U.S. National Cancer Institute, in providing the funding over seven years to identify cancer biomarkers to improve diagnosis and develop new targeted therapies, has honored Chinnaiyan with the Outstanding Investigator Award.

"The field of precision oncology continues to evolve with the overarching goal of providing cancer patients with enhanced diagnostic and prognostic capabilities and better treatments," Chinnaiyan said in a Sept. 10 statement.

"This grant will help us identify new biomarkers and understand their biological roles in cancer progression," the Indian American researcher added.

A pioneer in precision oncology, Chinnaiyan in 2010 launched the Michigan Oncology Sequencing program.

Mi-ONCOSEQ is a research protocol for sequencing the DNA and RNA of metastatic cancers and normal tissue to identify alterations that could help drive treatment.

The program includes a precision medicine tumor board in which experts discuss each case.

Chinnaiyan's lab has also analyzed the global landscape of a portion of the genome that has not been previously well-explored – lon non-coding RNAs.

Earlier considered as dark matter, new evidence suggests that lncRNAs may play a role in cancer and that understanding them better could lead to new potential targets for improving cancer diagnosis, prognosis or treatment.

Chinnaiyan's lab has also identified and explored several lncRNAs that could be promising targets for future therapy.

"We want to further characterize the dark matter of the genome. Some of these lncRNAs will certainly be very useful as cancer biomarkers and we think a subset is important in biological processes," Chinnaiyan noted.

"We hope to make it commonplace for patients to have a molecular blueprint of their tumor to guide treatment choices."

India-West adds: According to his bio, in addition to receiving his undergraduate degree and medical training at Michigan, Chinnaiyan received his Ph.D. in pathology and has made seminal contributions to the understanding of the molecular mechanisms of how cells die (a process called apoptosis).

Chinnaiyan has received a number of awards including the Basic Science Research Award awarded by the University of Michigan Medical School Dean’s Office, the AMGEN Outstanding Investigator Award, the Pew Biomedical Scholar Award, the Burroughs Welcome Foundation Award in Clinical Translational Research, the 2006 Benjamin Castleman Award, the 2007 Ramzi Cotran Young Investigator Award, and was recently appointed as an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Chinnaiyan was also elected as a member of the American Society of Clinical Investigation and the Association of American Physicians.

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