Dr. Robert Wechsler-Reya, a well-known researcher at Duke University has accepted a faculty position at Sanford-Burnham. He will be a professor and director of the Tumor Development Program at the Institute’s NCI-designated Cancer Center. Dr. Wechsler-Reya is the first researcher to receive a Leadership Award from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). The award, which will provide $5.9 million to support his research, was created to recruit stem cell scientists to California institutions.
Dr. Wechsler-Reya studies the signals that control how stem cells and progenitor cells grow in the developing brain and how these signals go awry in brain tumors. His laboratory has identified cancer stem cells in animal models of medulloblastoma, an aggressive childhood brain tumor. Dr. Wechsler-Reya hopes to use this knowledge, and the world-class drug discovery facilities at Sanford-Burnham’s Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics, to develop new therapies for medulloblastoma and other cancers.
“Medulloblastoma and astrocytoma are the most common brain tumors in children,” said Dr. Wechsler-Reya. “By examining the role stem cells play in the development of these tumors, we will deepen our understanding of how brain tumors form and can develop novel approaches to treating them.”
Before joining Sanford-Burnham, Dr. Wechsler-Reya was an associate professor in the Departments of Pharmacology & Cancer Biology and Neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center. Dr. Wechsler-Reya earned his Ph.D. in Immunology at the University of Pennsylvania. He conducted his postdoctoral research at the Wistar Institute and at Stanford University, where he demonstrated that a protein called Sonic hedgehog (SHH) triggers division of neuronal precursor cells, explaining why mutations in the SHH pathway can lead to cancer.
“Dr. Wechsler-Reya is an outstanding investigator who has made great contributions to our understanding of disease,” said Dr. Kristiina Vuori, Sanford-Burnham President and Cancer Center Director. “He will be an enormous asset for our Cancer Center, as well as the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine.”