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Nation's First-Time Ellison Award Supports Dr. Hong Yan's Basic Research on Aging at Fox Chase Cancer Center

PHILADELPHIA (August 5, 1998) -- Dr. Hong Yan of Huntingdon Valley, Pa., a cell biologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center, has been selected as one of the nation's first Ellison Medical Foundation New Scholars. The newly established award, given to only six scientists in the country, includes a four-year, $200,000 grant to support Yan's work on cellular aging, plus expenses to attend the Ellison Medical Foundation Colloquium on the Biology of Aging.

Foundation officials formally presented the awards at the Colloquium, held July 30-31 at the Marine Biology Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. According to Dr. Richard L. Sprott, executive director of the Ellison Medical Foundation in Bethesda, Md., Yan and the five other New Scholarsfrom the California Institute of Technology, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mayo Clinic and Rockefeller Universitywere chosen from "a very competitive field."

Foundation chairman Lawrence J. Ellison formed the nonprofit foundation to support basic biomedical research relevant to aging processes and age-related disabilities and diseases, including cancer. The New Scholar Program is designed to support new investigators of outstanding promise and help them become established in the field of aging. The Foundation particularly wishes to stimulate new creative research that might not be funded by government grants or other traditional sources.

Yan studies how cells organize their genetic material and duplicate it to create new cells. Since this process is vital for the orderly growth of normal cells, disturbances can lead to abnormalities.

To study DNA replication in cells, Yan uses extracts of frog eggs as a model system. As a graduate student, he provided the first insights into how cells limit their duplication of DNA to only one time per growth cycle. His work resulted in the discovery of a critical new protein and has been published in The Journal of Cell Biology, Nature Genetics and Science.

Most recently he has found that the gene responsible for this protein is comparable to a human gene that, when defective, results in Werner's syndrome, a rare genetic disorder causing premature diseases of aging. Starting in their 20s, people with Werner's syndrome may develop arteriosclerosis, diabetes, osteoporosis, graying and loss of hair, skin degeneration and increased risk of cancer.

The normal function of this human gene is not yet known. Yan is planning future experiments designed to reveal the role of this gene and its protein.

"Yan's research has the potential to elucidate fundamental genetic and molecular mechanisms of great relevance both to the process of aging and a common disease of the aged, cancer," said Dr. Anna Marie Skalka, senior vice president for basic science at Fox Chase, who nominated him for the New Scholar award.

Yan joined the basic science division of Fox Chase Cancer Center in December 1996. He received national recognition last year by being named a V Foundation Scholar.

He received his undergraduate degree in biology from Nanjing University in the People's Republic of China in 1984 and his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Cornell University in 1991. Yan then held postdoctoral fellowships at the University of California at San Diego.

Fox Chase is one of 34 National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the nation. The Center's activities include basic and clinical research; prevention, detection and treatment of cancer; and community outreach programs.

Fox Chase Cancer Center, part of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence four consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach.  For more information, call 1-888-FOX CHASE or (1-888-369-2427).

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