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Fox Chase Cancer Center Promotes Chernoff to Senior Member of Basic Science Division

PHILADELPHIA (August 27, 2002)-Jonathan Chernoff, M.D., Ph.D., of Jenkintown, Pa., has been promoted to the rank of senior member in Fox Chase Cancer Center's division of basic science, the equivalent of a full professor in a university. Chernoff joined the staff in 1991 as an associate member and was promoted to member with tenure in 1996. Currently he is program leader for the tumor-cell biology working group, involving scientists from Fox Chase's basic, medical and population science divisions.

A molecular oncologist, Chernoff has a special interest in factors that control cell growth, including anticancer or tumor-suppressor genes. He is also a board-certified medical oncologist.

Chernoff's laboratory has studied a class of enzymes-proteins responsible for biochemical reactions within cells-that normally help control the signals regulating cell growth, division and specialization. Flaws in this signaling system often lead cells to multiply uncontrollably.

Such enzymes are products of tumor-suppressor genes, which normally suppress unwanted growth. If a mutation damages or eliminates one of these genes, however, this genetic defect can give rise to cancer.

Chernoff has made fundamental contributions to understanding the role of one of the most common types of enzymes in this group, tyrosine phosphatases. Among other things, he and his co-workers isolated a human gene that directs production of this enzyme and showed that when it is introduced into tumor cells, it can revert them to normal appearance and behavior. Cloning this gene has provided a valuable tool for analyzing the enzyme's role in various cell processes.

Currently, Chernoff is focusing on the internal structure, or cytoskeleton, of cells. This structure is strongly influenced by actin, an abundant protein that forms filaments in cells. Actin reorganizes in response to growth factors, forming well-defined structures that are required for normal cell shape and movement, but these processes are poorly regulated in cancer cells. Chernoff focuses on how various enzymes, such as p21-activated kinase (PAK), interact with molecules that affect the organization of actin.

"We are studying these proteins at the biochemical, genetic and cell biological level, using a variety of experimental systems," he explains. "In doing so, we hope to unravel the complex regulatory machinery that controls the internal architecture of normal cells and discover how it goes wrong in cancer cells. This may give us a new molecular target for treatment or prevention approaches."

In announcing Chernoff's promotion, Anna Marie Skalka, Ph.D., senior vice president for basic science at Fox Chase, said that by improving understanding of cell shape and movement, his work has had an important impact on understanding cancer and how it spreads.

"Jon has achieved widespread recognition for his studies of p21-activated kinase, being the first to elucidate its central role in cytoskeletal organization," Skalka said. "Jon has also made seminal contributions to our understanding of the role of the tyrosine phosphatases in integrin signaling, which can also affect cell structure through the actin cytoskeleton.

"Jon's many contributions have been recognized by invitations to lecture, speak at international meetings and teach in special advanced courses. He has also been sought after for editorial duties and participation on peer-review panels."

In addition, Chernoff serves as a mentor to high school students working on science-fair projects in his laboratory. These students have done extremely well, including one who was selected as one of 40 Intel Corp. Science Talent Search finalists, earning a trip to Washington, D.C., in 1999.

Chernoff earned his M.D. and his Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1984 at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. He completed his residency in internal medicine at the University Health Center of Pittsburgh, a clinical fellowship in medical oncology at Johns Hopkins Oncology Center and a clinical fellowship in hematology at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. He then held a postdoctoral fellowship in cellular and developmental biology at Harvard University before coming to Fox Chase.

Fox Chase Cancer Center, one of the nation's first comprehensive cancer centers designated by the National Cancer Institute in 1974, conducts basic and clinical research; programs of prevention, detection and treatment of cancer; and community outreach. For more information about Fox Chase activities, visit the Center's web site at

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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