DeBerardinis becomes Runyon investigator

By Kristen Holland Shear / September 2011

UT Southwestern cancer researcher Dr. Ralph DeBerardinis has been named a 2011 Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator by the New York-based Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.

Dr. DeBerardinis, assistant professor of pediatrics and in the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development, is one of five individuals recently selected by the foundation to receive $450,000 each over three years to cover salary, research and staffing expenses for patient-oriented cancer research activities.

Dr. Ralph DeBerardinis
Dr. Ralph DeBerardinis

The annual awards are “designed to support and encourage physicians committed to translating cancer treatment research into cures, helping to address a national shortage of these specially trained scientists,” according to the foundation’s website. Since 2000, 58 physician-scientists have received Damon Runyon awards.

“We’ve known since the 1920s that aggressive tumors are metabolically distinct from normal tissue,” said Dr. DeBerardinis, who joined the UT Southwestern faculty in 2008. “But so far we haven’t had much success in exploiting these differences to improve patient care. The current challenge is to use the most sensitive methods to ask whether aggressive tumors contain any truly novel, tumor-specific metabolic activities that could be targeted safely with drugs or imaged as biomarkers of disease.”

Dr. DeBerardinis’ research focuses on how oncogenes and tumor suppressors affect nutrient utilization. He collaborates with Dr. Elizabeth Maher, associate professor of internal medicine and neurology and neurotherapeutics, in the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center to study some of these processes in human patients with glioblastoma multiforme, the most aggressive form of brain cancer.

“The ability to collaborate with an outstanding clinical group has been a major advantage,” he said. “It helps us stay focused on the overall goal, which is to improve patient survival.”

Dr. DeBerardinis said he believes the approach will be applicable to other cancer types and will lead to improved disease imaging and therapy. He works under the mentorship of Dr. Helen Hobbs, director of the McDermott Center and an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at UT Southwestern.

Other 2011 Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator grant recipients are Dr. Marie Bleakley, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle; Dr. Joshua Schiffman, University of Utah; Dr. Zsofia Stadler, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York; and Dr. Jean Tang, Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif.

Dr. DeBerardinis received his medical degree and a doctorate in cell and molecular biology from the University of Pennsylvania. He then completed a five-year combined residency program in pediatrics and medical genetics, followed by a yearlong fellowship in biochemical genetics at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.