by +Richard Holbrooke – The career of Antonio (Tony) Amelio, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Cancer Biology at Scripps Florida, has gotten a boost from the NIH in the form of a Howard Temin Pathway to Independence Award in Cancer Research. The multiyear award from the National Cancer Institute—worth around $1 million over five years—is designed to accelerate the progress of promising junior scientists to scientific independence.
“Tony is one of the best young scientists we have at Scripps Florida,” said John Cleveland, chair of the Scripps Research Department of Cancer Biology and one of Amelio’s mentors. “This award is a complete validation of not only the work he’s been doing, but of everything our mentoring is about— producing great science from terrific young investigators.”
Michael Conkright, a Scripps Florida assistant professor who is Amelio’s primary mentor, added, “Tony was able to learn skills and do the kind of work that allowed him to break out into his own independent research. This is what we hope for—to give young scientists the opportunity to move up and out.”
The Pathway to Independence Award is split into two phases. The initial phase provides one to two years of mentored support for postdoctoral fellows; the next phase is three years of independent support contingent on securing an independent tenure-track or equivalent research position. The National Institutes of Health issues only between 150 and 200 of these awards per year, making them highly competitive and relatively rare.
Amelio, who completed his graduate work at the University of Florida College of Medicine, is, understandably, excited. He’s grateful, too, that during an interruption in the grant review process due to gridlock over the federal budget, the Scripps Florida Department of Philanthropy and the local PGA National Women’s Cancer Awareness Day in nearby Palm Beach Gardens stepped in to support him.
Amelio’s research has been focused on the cell signaling proteins CREB and the CRTC coactivators. His current work bridges these studies and investigations in the Cleveland lab on a cancer-causing gene known as MYC (activated in up to 70 percent of all cancers) in human B cell lymphoma and leukemia to create his own independent research program. He hopes to decipher the role of the CREB and the CRTCs (which regulate key aspects of cell survival) in cooperating with the pathway of MYC to drive the creation and progression of tumors.
“If our hypothesis is correct and cross-talk between the CREB signaling network and known cancer-causing networks such as MYC is important for the transition to metastatic cancer, then we may be able to develop therapeutics that could represent a new class of drugs to battle cancer,” Amelio said.