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Cancer researcher wins Shaw Award

May 14, 2009 By Jill Sakai

UW-Madison cancer researcher Jing Zhang received a Shaw Scientist Award last week from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation to support her novel research on the roles cancer stem cells may play in the causes and treatment of cancer.


The Shaw Award — a $200,000 unrestricted prize — provides needed support to young scholar-scientists engaged in groundbreaking research in the fields of genetics, cell biology and cancer research at a critical stage in their careers.

“Unrestricted funding for scientists engaged in research is increasingly rare,” says Doug Jansson, president of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. “This award often provides support for outstanding, young scientists early in their careers. In many cases, researchers are able to continue their important work without interruption due to the very generous funding provided by the Shaw Award.”

Zhang, an assistant professor in the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research in the UW–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health, studies the genetic mechanisms that lead normal cells to become cancerous, with a focus on blood cancers like leukemia.

She is investigating where cancer stem cells arise and how they evolve during tumor progression and cancer treatment. Understanding whether and how cancer cell behaviors may differ from those of normal cells is critical to developing effective cancer treatments, she says.

“I am hoping that results from my work will identify new drug targets that can selectively eradicate cancer stem cells in certain types of tumors,” Zhang says.

She is currently working with clinical oncologists at UW–Madison to apply her findings to juvenile and adult leukemia patients.

The Greater Milwaukee Foundation created the Shaw Scientist Award from the James D. Shaw and Dorothy Shaw Fund. Dorothy Shaw, widow of prominent Milwaukee attorney James D. Shaw, endowed the fund with a $4.5 million bequest. She directed that part of her fund be used to advance research in biochemistry, biological science and cancer research at UW–Madison and UW-Milwaukee. Since the first grants were made in 1982, the Shaw Award has provided more than $11 million in grants to support cutting-edge research at the two institutions.