Damon Runyon Award aids Liu's cancer research

Dr. Qinghua Liu, assistant professor of biochemistry, has received a 2005 Damon Runyon Scholar Award, given annually to five young cancer scientists in the early part of their independent research careers.

He will receive $100,000 every year for the next three years from the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.
"The fact that Qinghua Liu was chosen in a stiff national competition for a Damon Runyon Award reflects well on both his past accomplishments and potential for scientific discoveries in the future," said Dr. Steven McKnight, chairman of biochemistry, and holder of the Sam G. Winstead and F. Andrew Bell Distinguished Chair in Biochemistry and the Distinguished Chair in Basic Biomedical Research.

Dr. Liu, a W.A. Moncrief Jr. Scholar in Medical Research who said he was extremely honored to receive the award, added, "This award motivates us to work even harder to understand the mechanism of the RNAi process. With this knowledge, we hope to improve the quality of human life some day."

The award is intended to provide funding to promising junior faculty to help establish their own laboratories. Dr. Hui Zou, assistant professor of molecular biology at UT Southwestern, received this award in 2003.

Dr. Liu's research focuses on identifying and analyzing the components of the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway using the common fruit fly as a model system. RNAi is a sequence-specific gene silencing mechanism that blocks activity of the target gene by destroying the RNA made by that gene. Without RNA, which is the gene's blueprint for protein formation, the gene is effectively "silenced."

Since the pathways are similar in flies and humans, the long-term goal of his research is to optimize and apply RNAi to treat human cancers by blocking the RNA of specific cancer-causing genes.

"Although a relative newcomer, Qinghua has made critically important contributions to the very competitive field of RNA interference," said Dr. Xiaodong Wang, professor of biochemistry at UT Southwestern Medical Center and holder of the George L. MacGregor Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Science, with whom Dr. Liu completed his postdoctoral fellowship.

During his three-year postdoctoral studies, Dr. Liu was awarded a two-year, $150,000 high-risk grant by Dr. Robert Alpern, former dean of Southwestern Medical School, and won a postdoctoral fellowship from the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.