Robert Wechsler-Reya, Ph.D., has been appointed professor and director of the Tumor Development Program at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (Sanford-Burnham) in the Institute’s NCI-designated Cancer Center. Dr. Wechsler-Reya will receive a $5.9 million Leadership Award from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to support his research at Sanford-Burnham. He is the first researcher to receive a CIRM Leadership Award.
“I am excited to be joining Sanford-Burnham and to have the opportunity to lead the program in Tumor Development,” said Dr. Wechsler-Reya. “The strength of the scientific community there, particularly in cancer biology, stem cell biology and neurobiology, is unparalleled. This move promises to transform the way we do science, and I am grateful to Sanford-Burnham and CIRM for making it possible.”
Dr. Wechsler-Reya investigates the signals that control how stem cells and progenitor cells grow in the developing brain and how these signals go awry in brain tumors. His laboratory has identified cancer stem cells in animal models of medulloblastoma, an aggressive childhood brain tumor. Dr. Wechsler-Reya hopes to use this knowledge, and the world-class drug discovery facilities at Sanford-Burnham’s Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics, to develop new therapies for medulloblastoma and other cancers.
“Medulloblastoma and astrocytoma are the most common brain tumors in children,” said Dr. Wechsler-Reya. “By examining the role stem cells play in the development of these tumors, we will deepen our understanding of how brain tumors form and can develop novel approaches to treating them.”
In addition to his work at the Cancer Center, Dr. Wechsler-Reya will also play an important role in the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, a collaboration between Sanford-Burnham, UC San Diego, the Salk Institute and The Scripps Research Institute.
Prior to joining Sanford-Burnham, Dr. Wechsler-Reya was an associate professor in the Departments of Pharmacology & Cancer Biology and Neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center. Dr. Wechsler-Reya earned his Ph.D. in Immunology at the University of Pennsylvania. He conducted his postdoctoral research at the Wistar Institute and at Stanford University, where he demonstrated that a protein called Sonic hedgehog (SHH) triggers division of neuronal precursor cells, explaining why mutations in the SHH pathway can lead to cancer.
“Dr. Wechsler-Reya is an outstanding investigator who has made great contributions to our understanding of disease,” said Kristiina Vuori, M.D., Ph.D., Sanford-Burnham President and Pauline and Stanley Foster Presidential Chair. “He will be an enormous asset for our Cancer Center, as well as the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine.”
The CIRM Leadership Awards aid in recruiting early to mid-career stem cell scientists to California institutions by permitting the recipients to pursue high-risk, high payoff, innovative studies that could not be adequately supported by other sources.
“Sanford-Burnham’s recruitment of Robert Wechsler-Reya brings another outstanding national leader in developmental neurobiology and cancer research to California and will accelerate the Proposition 71 mission to develop stem cell therapies,” said Robert Klein, Chairman of CIRM’s Governing Board. “The promise of collaborative research among San Diego’s leading research institutions and the new research facility for the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, slated for opening in 2011, proved to be significant contributing factors in the recruitment of this national stem cell research leader.”