Sanford Burnham Prebys continues unprecedented recruitment of early-career scientists

Angela Liou, M.D. and Xueqin Sherine Sun, Ph.D.

Continuing its rapid and dramatic recruitment of emerging, top-tier researchers, Sanford Burnham Prebys has hired two more highly regarded early-career scientists: Angela Liou, M.D., a specialist in pediatric oncology and hematology; and Xueqin Sherine Sun, Ph.D., a cancer biologist and genome engineer.

“With Drs. Liou and Sun, we have now hired eight superb young scientists and physicians in less than a year, an achievement that reflects the extraordinary challenges in biomedical research today and our ambitious plans to translate them into better human health,” says David A. Brenner, M.D., president and CEO of Sanford Burnham Prebys.

The unprecedented hiring effort is the result of a $70 million gift earlier this year from philanthropist T. Denny Sanford to recruit a cadre of early-career scientists in the fields of cancer, neurodegeneration and aging, cardiovascular disease and computational biology.

“These scientists possess the knowledge, tools and perspectives to address challenges in this new era of big data science,” says Brenner. “They come from some of the finest institutions and labs in the country; and they’re not daunted by our ambition to tackle the hardest, deadliest diseases and threats to public health.”

The two newest members of the Sanford Burnham Prebys faculty are:

Angela Liou, M.D.

Liou, who joins Sanford Burnham Prebys in January 2024, is a physician-scientist. At Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, she specializes in pediatric oncology and hematology and conducts clinical research investigating the biological and epigenomic underpinnings of central nervous system tumors in children.

She is also an instructor in pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, and previously was a resident physician in pediatrics at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco.

“I’m motivated by a passion for cancer research and driven to improve care for my patients, especially given the dismal prognoses of most malignant brain tumors despite significant advances in cancer treatment,” says Liou.

Liou’s research specifically focuses on diffuse midline gliomas, which often are found in the brain stem, a region controlling critical functions such as breathing, swallowing and heart rate. These tumors primarily affect children between the ages of 6 and 9 and are extremely aggressive, with a median survival rate of nine to 15 months.

“I’ve taken care of many children who’ve died from central nervous system tumors, and each child has instilled in me a greater urgency to find effective therapies.”

Xueqin Sherine Sun, Ph.D.

Sun, who will join the Institute in March 2024, is a cancer biologist and genome engineer at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) in New York, founded in 1890 and among the nation’s preeminent biomedical research institutions in cancer, neuroscience, plant biology and quantitative biology.

Sun’s research focuses on understanding the genetic and epigenetic underpinnings of innate immunity and blood and brain cancers, using genome editing technologies, animal models, patient-derived samples and other multidisciplinary tools to develop more effective therapies for immune-related diseases and cancer.

With Alea Mills, Ph.D., a professor at the NCI-designated CSHL cancer center, Sun published findings last year explaining why a gene called P53, generally regarded as protective against malignancies, suffers its own debilitation that renders it powerless against glioblastomas because of an epigenetic regulator called BRD8.

“The goal of my lab is to understand what goes awry in our normal cells, eventually transforming them into cancerous cells. What is the Achilles’ heel of different types of cancer cells, and how can we target these vulnerabilities in cancer cells to achieve effective treatment for cancer patients?

“What adds another dimension to the complexity of cancer is that cancer cells constantly change the proximal (near) and even distal (far) environment in normal tissues to survive and grow. Fortunately, cancer cells depend on communication with their tissue microenvironment which renders opportunities for therapeutic intervention.”

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