Ze’ev Ronai wins Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Melanoma Research

Written by 
Jessica Moore
Ze've Rovai

Ze’ev Ronai, Ph.D., chief scientific advisor at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Research Institute (SBP) and professor in its NCI-designated Cancer Center, is the 2016 recipient of the Society for Melanoma Research’s Lifetime Achievement Award. The award honors “an individual who has made major and impactful contributions to melanoma research throughout their career.”

Ronai is being recognized for his significant contributions to melanoma research that are advancing understanding of this deadly form of skin cancer and could lead to new treatments. His studies on ultraviolet (UV) irradiation-induced changes that promote melanoma showed how they rewire signaling networks. A major discovery from those inquiries was that one player in that rewiring, a protein called ATF2, can switch from its usual tumor-preventive function to become a tumor promoter. Work by the Ronai lab also mapped how ATF2 contributes to melanoma development, and identified specific factors involved in melanoma response to therapy and metastatic potential.

In mapping the landscape of melanoma signaling, Ronai’s lab also uncovered the important role the enzyme PDK1 plays in melanoma development and metastasis. More recently, Ronai’s studies identified a mechanism underlying resistance of melanoma to BRAF inhibitor therapy, paving the road for a new clinical trial. Integral to Ronai’s research are translational initiatives, including the development of SBI-756, a small molecule that disrupts the complex that initiates protein synthesis and prevents melanoma resistance when combined with BRAF inhibition.

Ronai and his team also study how cancer cells thrive under harsh conditions, such as lack of oxygen or nutrients. That line of research has produced important insights into cancer heterogeneity and its capacity to drive the survival of the select few cancer cells that are resistant to therapy and able to metastasize. Ronai’s studies of proteins that control stress responses, such as Siah and RNF5, have furthered understanding of these processes and identified new targets for future therapies.

Ronai’s record of scientific accomplishments was recognized by the National Cancer Institute with an Outstanding Investigator Award, a seven-year grant that allows recipients to pursue projects of unusual potential. Ronai’s unique focus on how gene activity changes in cancer promises to continue establishing new paradigms for how cancers develop and respond to therapy.

About the Society for Melanoma Research

The Society for Melanoma Research (SMR) is an all-volunteer group of scientists dedicated to finding the mechanisms responsible for melanoma and, consequently, new therapies for this cancer. SMR contributes to advances in melanoma research by catalyzing collaborations among basic, translational, and clinical researchers, carrying new technology-based discoveries from bench to bedside and back.

About melanoma

The incidence of melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer, is rising at one of the fastest rates of all cancers in the U.S. Melanoma can strike people of all ages and is the most common form of cancer among young adults ages 25 to 29.