See also our related blog for the Pediatric Preclinical Testing Initiative.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Welcoming Jen

We would like to welcome Jennifer Alabran as an important staff scientist and lab manager for the Keller lab at OHSU.  Jen received a B.Sc. in Biology from Allegheny College, then went to the National Cancer Institute as a Cancer Research Training Award Fellow in the laboratory of Dr. John Letterio.  When Dr. Letterio's laboratory moved to Case Western Reserve University, Jen enrolled in graduate school and received a M.Sc. in Pathology and Cancer Biology.  From these studies, Jen is first author of the report of a synthetic trierpenoid therapeutic for neuroblastoma.  Most recently Jen has been developing a preclinical cancer model in the T cell biology laboratory of Dr. Mark Jutila.  Jen has a strong commitment to children with cancer in and out of the laboratory, and volunteers annually at camp for children with cancer in Montana.  

Welcoming Monika!

Dr Monika Davare will be joining our laboratory on September 1 as a staff scientist and as our pediatric brain tumor research projects leader.  Monika has strong research portfolio, to be sure.  In the Keller laboratory, she will lead our team investigating factors responsible for medulloblastoma progression and leptomeningeal metastasis.  We look forward to having Monika as a member of our team!

"  I received my PhD from the Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology Program at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. While in Madison, in Johannes Hell’s laboratory, I identified novel signaling complexes associated with CaV1.2 voltage gated calcium channel and demonstrated spatio-temporal regulation of the channel via associated adrenergic signaling complex. We published these data in the Journal of Biological Chemistry and in Science. In our PNAS paper we show the molecular mechanism for calcium channel upregulation that likely contributes to the calcium dysregulation in aging neurons correlated to age related neurodegeneration.
As a postdoctoral fellow with Dr. Thomas Soderling (at the Vollum Institute, OHSU), I have characterized the novel signaling complexes associated with calcium/calmodulin regulated kinases, including CaMKK and CaMK1g and identified the role of these kinases during neuronal development, including axonogenesis, activity regulated dendrite/spine formation as well as synaptic plasticity. These data were published as primary and secondary author papers in Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Biological Chemistry, PNAS and Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience. With my extensive background in neuronal signal transduction, I am now highly motivated to focus research efforts on understanding the histogenesis and dissemination of brain tumors, particularly medulloblastoma and glioma.
As such with the Knight Cancer Foundation’s Career Development Award, I am exploring the role of calcium kinase signaling during medulloblastoma migration.   In the coming year, I hope to intensify and focus these efforts, casting a wider net for putative therapeutic targets in Charles Keller’s laboratory. "

Introducing Liz

As our laboratory transition from Texas to Portland, we'd like to acknowledge one of the key people who are helping make the process a success.  Elizabeth 'Liz' Perkins is the Administrative Coordinator for the Pediatric Cancer Biology Program and other laboratories within the Pape' Family Pediatric Research Institute.  Liz has extensive professional experience in enterprise-level organizations, as well as volunteerism, special events planning and entrepreneurship.  Liz's experience in managing and organizing executive (board) level activities gives her a special insight into what makes a process successful, as well as how to avoid common pitfalls.  We are grateful that Liz is a part of our team and look forward to growing a highly productive program with her as our founding team member.  

Welcoming Elaine

We are excited to welcome Elaine Huang as operational manager of the Pediatric Preclinical Testing Initiative at OHSU.  Elaine hails from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and received her B.S. in Microbiology from the University of Michigan.  Elaine then attended graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania where she earned a M.Sc. in Immunology under Dr. Christopher Hunter studying host responses to T. gondii.  Elaine's professional experiences include working in an industry-sponsored GLP/GMP clinical cell and vaccine production facility at U Penn.  Most recently Elaine was a research associate at the Transgenic Mouse Model Shared Resource at OHSU, generating diverse genetically modified mouse models for the researchers using a full spectrum of reproductive technologies.  In her off hours Elaine spends 'too much time' reading and knitting, that is when she’s not running around the various 'woodsy' parts of Oregon.  Elaine will work in concert with Dr. Jinu Abraham, scientific manager of the PPTI, to discover and develop novel new treatments for childhood cancers.    Welcome, Elaine!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Welcoming Audra

Our laboratory welcomes Audra Lee to our team of basic and translational scientists in the Keller lab at OHSU.  Audra earned both B.S. and M.S. degrees in Biology from Ball State University before becoming an important contributing scientist to the laboratory of Dr. Robert Wechsler-Reya, a colleague and one of the rising stars in childhood medulloblastoma research.  In Rob's lab, Audra was first author on an important study on postnatal neural stem cells of the cerebellum published in Nature Neuroscience.  Audra also has vital experience in the biotechnology field having worked at Zen Bio, Inc, in Research Triangle Park, NC.  In her free time, Audra is an aspiring author and enjoys exploring the outdoors.
     In our laboratory, Audra will work to further develop an exciting in ovo system for discovering drugs that inhibit metastasis which has been developed thus far by means of an Innovation Grant the Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation.  

Welcome, Audra!

Welcoming Summer Student, Lauren Peterson

It is our pleasure to welcome Lauren to the lab team.  Lauren will be researching and writing a manuscript on an important aspect of pediatric clinical research.  This is a project for which her undergraduate studies and her social advocacy roles makes her especially qualified:

"I’ve grown up in eastern Washington and am attending Walla Walla University as a Humanities major with a Chemistry minor. I enjoy working with kids, whether it’s teaching swimming lessons or being a camp counselor. As well as working with kids, I enjoy writing and editing, which is why I am very excited to work on this writing project with Dr. Keller this summer.        -- Lauren   "  

Welcoming Ken

We are pleased to welcome physician-scientist Dr. Ken Kikuchi as a postdoctoral fellow to our laboratory starting July 1.  Ken Received his MD and PhD degrees from Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine in 1999 and 2008, respectively.  For his PhD, Ken studied under Dr. Hajime Hosoi.  The results of Ken's studies on the effects of the Pax3:Fkhr oncogene on alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma are published in the Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.  Ken's long term career goal is to be the principal investigator of an independent academic research laboratory studying rhabdomyosarcoma biology.  Welcome, Ken!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

You Can Participate in our Novel Therapeutics Studies !

One would like to think that tangibly better treatments for rhabdomyosarcoma, medulloblastoma and other childhood cancers can be found in a matter of years, instead of tens of years. Finding new treatments starts with research, perhaps even a new research approach to identifying effective new treatments. The Pediatric Preclinical Testing Initiative (at the Pediatric Cancer Biology Program, Pape' Family Pediatric Research Institute, Oregon Health & Science University) focuses on finding molecules in childhood cancers that can be directly turned off or on by drugs so that the tumor stops growing. Behind our novel approach is the use of genetically-engineered mice. Our Pediatric Preclinical Testing Initiative uses mice modified from before birth so that at a certain age, and in a certain tissue, the same mutations found in a child’s cancer are activated in the mouse. These special mouse models of childhood cancer can be used to test a treatment to see whether the tumor growth and spread (metastasis) can be reversed. The specific aspect of these mice having normal immune systems is a real plus, too, because white blood cells play an important role in how tumors evolve and respond to therapy.

 Our program is designed around community participation. Through the Doernbecher Children's Hospital Foundation at OHSU, you can contribute directly to this grass-roots initiative. Donations through small gifts or grants will assist in studying compounds that may be effective in treating such childhood cancers as alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, or medulloblastoma (the alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma model was featured by Dr. Keller's long time collaborator and former mentor, 2007 Nobel laureate Mario Capecchi, in his Nobel Prize lecture.) For example, a grant of $8500 enabled the PPTI to study a promising multi-kinase inhibitor in mice with alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma.

For additional information regarding supporting this program please contact Ms. Sue Nicol, Doernbecher Children's Hospital Foundation, at nicols(at) . For additional information on this program, please contact PPTI leader Dr. Charles Keller at Results obtained through these studies will be shared with the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program, as well as the Children’s Oncology Group, which designs clinical trials for childhood cancer.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Acknowledging the Amazing Team at GCCRI

As our laboratory moves officially from San Antonio to OHSU in Portland next week, it's important to acknowledge the incredibly talented group we've been able to work with at GCCRI in San Antonio.  

In the time since our lab started in 2005, we've published over 2 dozen papers with funding in the form of R01(s), NIH S10 grants and other competitive awards.  All this was possible through the hard work and intellectual contributions of postdoctoral fellows including:

- Eri Taniguchi (who went on to a second fellowship at MGH/Harvard and is now at Cincinnati Children's Hospital), 
- Koichi Nishijo (who is now Clinical Leader in Oncology Therapeutic Development, Bayer Japan), 
- Sachiko Ohshima (who has gone on to a second fellowship with Dr. Marina Emborg, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison), 
- Tohru Hosoyama (who has gone on to a second fellowship with Dr. Masatoshi Suzuki, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison), 
- Min Jung Cho (who is now faculty in the Dept of Pediatrics, Busan National University Hospital, Korea), 
- Anu Soundararajan (who has gone on to a second fellowship with Dr. Peter Fox at Research Imaging Institute, UTHSCSA), 
- Aoife Kilcoyne (who is a Radiology Resident in Dublin, Ireland),  and 
- Jinu Abraham (who will be taking an important leadership role with the PPTI in our lab at OHSU).  

We've also had the good fortune to have diligent, kind-hearted and highly effective scientific staff, including the tireless Laura Nelon, Xiaolan Yi, Beverly Schaffer and Sheila Hampton.  Laura, Xiaolan and Sheila made the move possible, and I personally can't thank them enough.  In fact, there are almost no words that can adequately express our appreciation.  The single most productive person, at least by authorship count, would be Suresh Prajapati, who managed our Small Animal Imaging Resource Facility with incredible efficiency and professionalism. 

We graduated four graduate students, Patrick "P.J." Hawkes, Lisa Nevell, Corrine Chua, and the award-winning Aislynn Samano.  Aislynn was particularly resilient in finding a way to rate therapies for medulloblastoma using our mouse models.  And of course, Lisa is now a postdoctoral fellow with Nobel laureate, Mario Capecchi.  We've had many other part time and Summer students in our lab that we've highlighted previously (including Mandy McCleish, Jerry Chang, Hunter Weibush, Steven McCarthy and Andrea Rodriguez), but it's important to acknowledge the incredible Courtney Kubicek, a nursing student who began each schoolday at 6am by examinations... of our mice!  She will surely be an outstanding nurse anesthetist one day soon.  Medical student Imran Aslam deserves special recognition, too, for working with Tohru to turn an AMA medical student seed grant into an important part of an R01 application that scored 25 (7th percentile). 

The staff at GCCRI deserve our deep thanks, also.  They include our fearless and sage Administrator, Bill Chessher (as a former hospital administrator, rodeo man, heavy equipment operator and poultry farmer, Bill's memoirs should be rather interesting), financial and information technology head Tony Mendicino (who knew both could be done by the same person, and so effectively!), Danette Besancon (the ultimate can-do person), Richard McDougle (to whom all PI's must account), the talented graphics artist David Rodriguez, helpful grantsperson Lucy Hernandez, talented histologist Michelle Brady, flow cytometry aficionado Jenny Rebeles, the gifted network systems engineer Barron Blackman, the sleepless network support person Tony Dennie, as well as the undeniable and very loved facility manager Tracy Byrd and Irma Gonzalez, who we couldn't have done without!  Our heart goes out to Frances 'Fran' Melton, who performed the impossible with our Oncomouse-related MTA's, and colleague Chris Burke, who managed our busy and complex IP portfolio without ever losing her sense of humor.  Gaye, Joe, Richard and Teresa in Purchasing are deeply valued also.  

What can be said of our fearless founding leader, Dr. Sharon Murphy?  Although she's at the Institute of Medicine now, her insights into team building and driving biological problems cannot be surpassed, and we appreciate the opportunity to continue learning from her wisdom.  Our work, too, couldn't have been accomplished without the support of Debbie Morrill and Kim Warshauer. Leslea Sarro and Tammy Linn in lab animal resources literally kept our lab's heart beating. 

Finally, we'd like to thank the Foundations that have supported our work, including the Scott Carter Foundation, Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, the National Brain Tumor Society, the Sarcoma Foundation of America, the Amschwand Sarcoma Cancer Foundation, the Rally Foundation and the Joanna McAfee Childhood Cancer Foundation.  Their support has allowed us to create the Pediatric Preclinical Testing Initiative and to pursue high risk, high reward projects that have gone on to successful R01's.  
Charles & Team

Monday, June 14, 2010

Rhabdomyosarcoma Paper accepted to MCT

Congratulations to co-first authors, Bev Schaffer (Keller lab) and Marcia Grayson (Infante lab) whose manuscript, "Immune Competency of a Hairless Strain for Improved Preclinical Studies in Genetically-Engineered Mice" was accepted today to Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, an AACR Journal.  This study describes a way to improve genetically-engineered mouse models of cancer (particularly rhabdomyosarcoma) by making them fur-free.  Other co-authors include Keller lab current and past members, Laura Nelon, Suresh Prajapati, Joy Wortham, Courtney Kubicek, Mandy McCleish, Michelle Brady and Tohru Hosoyama, as well as collaborators Tony Infante (UTHSCSA Pediatrics & Immunology), Inkyung Jung and Joel Michalek (UTHSCSA Biostatistics), Leslea Sarro and Marti Hanes (UTHSCSA Lab Animal Resources), Brian Rubin (Cleveland Clinic) and Charlie Clifford (Charles River Laboratories).  
[ Update! 7/23/10... exciting news, this paper will be featured as the Cover Article  ] 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

R01 grant receives great score (now hiring!)

We are excited that our multiple-PI NIH R01 research grant in collaboration with Dr. Denis Guttridge at OSU has received a very favorable priority score, putting it in the top 7% of grants being reviewed this past cycle.  This grant application addresses the role of NFkB in the childhood muscle cancer.  The preliminary data for this application would not have been possible without the hard work and intellectual contributions of Keller lab postdoctoral fellows, Drs. Sachiko Ohshima and Tohru Hosoyama, as well as key experiments designed and implemented by medical student M. Imran Aslam, who was funded by an AMA Medical Student Research Seed Grant.  

  Naturally, of course, we will be looking for an additional postdoctoral fellow for this project.  Please see our ad in Naturejobs, which is also below:

Postdoctoral Research Fellowship for Signaling in Muscle Stem Cells and Rhabdomyosarcoma.    This mentored position in the Keller laboratory will empower the candidate to create and analyze complex conditional genetic mouse models of pediatric cancers for the purpose of developing novel molecular therapies. The primary goal for this position is to investigate the role of growth factor and cytokine signaling in the childhood muscle cancer, alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma.  
Qualifications Required:    MD and/or PhD, preferably with 3-4 years experience in Biochemistry; molecular biology; animal models and animal surgery; small animal imaging; cancer biology.
How to Apply:    Please send cover letter and CV with 3 references to Dr. Charles Keller, at 


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Implications for Wilm's Tumor

An interesting article in Stem Cell Research by Lusis et al this week discusses the embryonic and fetal stem cells that become the kidney, and how to culture and study this type of cell.  This report has some rather important implications for Wilm's Tumor, a embryonic form of kidney tumor in children.  For additional detail, follow the link to the original article or see our Commentary.  
We are thankful to the Scott Carter Foundation for their support through a Scott Carter fellowship to Jinu Abraham, lead author of this editorial.