Texas Biomedical Engineer Wins Prestigious Award to Study Cancer-Fighting Cells


The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation selected Professor Jenny Jiang for its prestigious 2015 Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award.

Jiang, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, received the award for groundbreaking research that will potentially create a better understanding of the cells that help the immune system fight cancer, among other diseases.

The $300,000, two-year grant is awarded each year to early career scientists and engineers whose research projects have the potential to significantly impact the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Each awardee will have the opportunity for up to two additional years of funding (up to four years total for $600,000).

The Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovation Award funds cancer research by exceptionally creative thinkers with “high-risk/high-reward” ideas. The foundation selects the awardees through a highly competitive and rigorous process by a committee comprised of leading cancer researchers and innovators. Only those with a clear vision and passion for curing cancer are selected to receive the prestigious award. 

"This award is a unique recognition for Jenny Jiang and the research she does in our department. It recognizes her pioneering cancer work, and I’m also particularly proud that she is one of only a few engineers to receive the award,” said Nicholas Peppas, chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Many diseases could be cured if the power of our own immune systems could be harnessed. For cancer, the theory of “cancer immunoediting” provides a hypothesis for how tumors escape detection by the immune system. Jiang works at the interface of systems biology, genomics and immunology, and her lab is developing a single cell-based integrated technological approach to challenge this theory.

She will profile the immune system repertoire for antigen specificity, receptor gene sequences and cellular function-related gene expression. Her approach may provide explanations for why and how the immune system tolerates tumors, and her proposed study may result in a paradigm shift that could improve cancer immunotherapies and also revolutionize health care with new personalized immune metrics for early disease detection and targeted therapy.

Jiang is one of six individuals with novel approaches to fighting cancer who have received the award this year. The other awardees are: Nicholas T. Ingolia, University of California, Berkeley; Christopher M. Jewell, University of Maryland; Brian H. Shirts, University of Washington; and Guillem Pratx, Stanford University.