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Fox Chase Cancer Center Biologist Receives AACR-Pennsylvania Department of Health Career Development Award in Basic Cancer Research

PHILADELPHIA (March 23, 2004) -- Fox Chase Cancer Center cell biologist Edna Cukierman, PhD, of Huntingdon Valley, Pa., has been selected to receive the only 2004 American Association for Cancer Research-Pennsylvania Department of Health Career Development Award in Basic Cancer Research. The Career Development Awards, given to top researchers from Pennsylvania institutions, provide important transitional support for investigators moving from postdoctoral studies to faculty positions.

Cukierman's award provides a two-year grant of $50,000 per year for direct research expenses. Candidates for the award are in the first, second or third year of a full-time faculty appointment. Selection is based on research initiative, creativity, previous accomplishments, the probability of meaningful results from proposed research and the likely contribution of the research to the advancement of the knowledge of cancer.

Cukierman joined Fox Chase Cancer Center's division of basic science in 2002. Her research concentrates on how cells interact with their natural environment-the "extracellular matrix"-within the body. One of the fundamental differences between precancerous and normal cells is the manner in which they interact with their immediate environment. Investigating these differences is critical for understanding the pathobiology of cancer progression.

One of Cukierman's research interests is to understand how microenvironmental effects aid cancer progression. Her research on the biology of cell interactions with the extracellular matrix includes studying the structure, functions and signaling process of contacts between a cell and the matrix, known as cell-matrix adhesions. The behavior of cells within tissues depends on these cell-matrix contact structures. Signals move both from outside the cell into it and from inside the cell out to its immediate environment.

Defects in cell-matrix interactions are a characteristic of cancerous tumors. Understanding the basis for these interactions is vital to understanding cancer biology and developing new approaches to cancer treatment and prevention.

Cukierman has studied the possible role of certain proteins as regulators of cell-matrix adhesions due to their interactions with key signaling proteins and with actin, an abundant protein that forms thread-like fibers in cells to produce the well-defined structures required for normal cell shape and movement. During her postdoctoral training, Cukierman discovered a previously unknown cellular structure, the 3-D Matrix Adhesion.

"Edna Cukierman's findings have challenged the use of traditional tissue culture conditions for understanding the structure, functions and signaling of cell adhesions in living, three-dimensional environments," said Anna Marie Skalka, PhD, senior vice president for basic science at Fox Chase. Skalka nominated Cukierman for the award. "Her work illustrates the value of replacing conventional two-dimensional cell cultures with 3-D matrices to enhance our understanding of how cell functions organize themselves within the body."

From 1997 until coming to Fox Chase, Cukierman held a fellowship from the Fogarty International Center as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), part of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. She worked in the craniofacial developmental biology and regeneration branch and received an NIH Fellows Award for Research Excellence in 2002.

Before coming to the United States, Cukierman was a teaching assistant from 1991 to 1997 at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel. There she also earned her undergraduate degree in biology in 1990, her master's degree in biochemistry in 1993 and her Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology in 1997.

Born in Mexico, Cukierman moved to Israel at age 20. She is married to Mario Cukierman. They have two children, ten-year-old Gil and Amit, age seven.

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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