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Joseph Testa to Receive 2009 Scientific Research Award from the American Cancer Society

PHILADELPHIA (October 15, 2009) – Joseph R. Testa, PhD, professor of human genetics at Fox Chase Cancer Center, will receive the 2009 Scientific Research Award from the Pennsylvania Division, Southeast Region of the American Cancer Society at a ceremony tonight in King of Prussia, Pa. The award is in recognition of a body of work that has advanced the scientific understanding of how genetics and cell signaling underpin cancer, particularly in the study of AKT, a protein activated in many forms of cancer, and mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer that often affects the lungs.

“Dr. Testa is an exceptional researcher who not only has distinguished himself among his peers, but also among the mesothelioma advocacy community,” says Michael V. Seiden, MD, PhD, president and CEO of Fox Chase Cancer Center. “Joe stands prominently among scientists of great distinction, and the Fox Chase community is justifiably proud of his accomplishments.”

Former Fox Chase researcher Neal Meropol, MD, currently of Case Western University, will receive the 2009 Cancer Control Award at the ceremony as well.

Testa joined the Fox Chase faculty in 1989 and now holds the Carol and Kenneth Weg Chair in Human Genetics. He is a co-leader of both the Cancer Signaling and Genetics NCI-core grant program and the Keystone Program in Personalized Kidney Cancer Therapy.

Testa received his PhD in 1976 from Fordham University in New York City, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi honorary societies.  He then pursued postdoctoral training at the University of Chicago, where he worked with cancer cytogeneticist and Lasker Award recipient Janet D. Rowley, MD.  He subsequently held senior research positions at the National Cancer Institute – Baltimore Cancer Research Program and the University of Maryland Cancer Center.  In 1987, he was on sabbatical leave at the NCI – Frederick Cancer Research Facility, where his interest in molecular mechanisms of oncogenesis was sparked while working in the laboratory of George Vande Woude, PhD.

Over the last 20 years, Testa has focused much of his attention on understanding how DNA becomes altered in mesothelioma.  Using both cellular and molecular genetic approaches, he identified a set of chromosomal regions that are frequently deleted in human mesotheliomas, often in combination.  Testa’s group also reported the first mouse model that faithfully recapitulates many of the molecular features of human mesothelioma, which has had significant implications for understanding how the disease develops and could fill the critical need for the preclinical testing of new therapeutics against mesothelioma.  In addition to federal funding for this work, Testa’s research also receives support from Philadelphia’s Local No. 14 of the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators – a protein whose overactivity Testa and his colleagues worldwide have established as one of the most common molecular changes in human cancer. He began his studies of AKT while working in Baltimore, where he mapped the chromosomal location of the human AKT1 gene.  At Fox Chase, Testa’s laboratory then cloned and characterized the AKT2 gene and reported aberrant amounts of AKT2 in a subset of human ovarian and pancreatic cancers.  His work has provided fundamental insight into how AKT activation contributes to tumor aggression and has driven the discovery of a number of potential targets for future anticancer drugs.  Testa’s initial support for his work on AKT, in 1992, was provided by a grant from the American Cancer Society.

During his career, Testa has received several awards recognizing his earlier research accomplishments, including the Special Fellow, Scholar, and Stohlman Memorial Scholar Awards from the Leukemia Society of America.  In 1999, he was awarded the Irving J. Selikoff Award for Cancer Research in recognition of his research on the origins of mesothelioma.  In 2008, he was a co-recipient of the Landon Foundation-AACR Innovator Award for international collaboration in cancer research.  Testa is a member of the NCI’s Board of Scientific Counselors.  He also serves on the Editorial Boards of five scientific journals, including Cancer Research, and he has edited two major journal review volumes, one on AKT signaling and the second on tumor suppressor genes.  He has published more than 300 original scientific research articles and reviews.

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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