Venteicher Lab fellow wins prestigious research award

Danielle Brotto, PhD, who is a post-doctoral research fellow in the Neurosurgery Department’s Venteicher Lab, was recently notified that she won one of the highly competitive Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Awards for Research. Since 1937, the New Haven, Connecticut-based Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund (JCC Fund) has been offering highly qualified scientists the opportunity to pursue research into the causes and origins of cancer, according to the Fund’s website.

“I was very happy for Danielle to have received this award,” said Andrew Venteicher, MD, PhD, director of the Venteicher Lab. “The selection process is rigorous. She was chosen from more than 300 applicants by a distinguished Board of Scientific Advisers who are leaders in their fields. Prior winners of the award have gone on to make singular contributions to our understanding of the causes and treatments for cancer.”

Opportunity to help
The $162,000, three-year grant covers Dr. Brotto’s salary and some lab expenses and enables her to travel to medical meetings. It also allows her to continue and expand her research into chordoma, a rare type of brain cancer that has no current approved chemotherapy. “I believe the award will give me an opportunity to potentially help these patients,” she said. “There is a lack of information about the biology of chordoma tumors, so we’re taking genomic and epigenomic approaches to perhaps help answer questions such as what is driving this type of cancer or why patients have such a high recurrence rate.”

Danielle Brotto, PhDDr. Brotto (pictured at left) is a native of Brazil where she completed her PhD. “I started doing research when I was still in graduate school. When I was working toward my master’s degree, I studied biomarkers in breast cancer but always focused on one gene at a time,” she said. “For my PhD, I expand my focus to the entire genome. It enabled me to learn techniques and data analysis that became important in my post-doc research.”

According to Dr. Venteicher, Dr. Brotto will use the JCC Fund award to focus on identifying non-genetic causes for cancer. “She is using the experience she accumulated during her PhD training in Brazil to design novel experimental approaches to test how DNA structure and organization can explain why cancer cells behave aggressively, resist chemotherapy treatment, and have a propensity to metastasize,” he said.

Courage and confidence
Winning the award helped increase Dr. Brotto’s self-confidence and gave her a sense of security. “I gained courage and confidence that I am able to write a grant proposal that’s accepted and funded,” she said. “And I can relax and concentrate on my research because my expenses are taken care of.” She is also grateful for the help she received from Dr. Venteicher and Neurosurgery Department Head Clark C. Chen, MD, PhD, during the application process.

Dr. Brotto advises other young researchers to apply for programs like the Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Award. “Sometimes we decide not to compete for grants because we know that so many other people are applying,” she said. “For beginning researchers, it’s important to try and it will be helpful regardless of whether you pursue an academic career or a job in industry.”

Talent at the U
It was rewarding for Dr. Venteicher to see Dr. Brotto obtain this recognition, “for her hard work, innate ability, and tremendous potential,” he said. “An award like this reminds me of the vast talent we have in our postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduates here at the University of Minnesota. This is a true honor for Danielle and recognizes her special talents and aptitude for translational science. I am very proud of her.”

Learn more about the Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Award.

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