Ramin Shiekhattar, Ph.D., Named to the Herbert Kean, M.D., Family Professorship at The Wistar Institute

Ramin Shiekhattar, Ph.D., Named to the Herbert Kean, M.D., Family Professorship at The Wistar Institute

July 9, 2009

(PHILADELPHIA – JULY 10, 2009)— Ramin Shiekhattar, Ph.D., a leading expert in the biochemical mechanisms of gene expression, has been appointed to the Herbert Kean, M.D., Family Professorship at The Wistar Institute, the nation’s oldest independent biomedical research institute and a National Cancer Institute–designated Cancer Center since 1972.

Shiekhattar rejoins Wistar’s full-time faculty in its Gene Expression and Regulation Program after two years as an ICREA Professor at the Center for Genomic Regulation (CRG) in Barcelona, Spain.

“We are pleased to welcome Dr. Shiekhattar back and to name him the Kean Family Professor,” said Wistar President and CEO Russel E. Kaufman, M.D. “He is world-renowned in the field of RNA signaling, and the support of an endowed professorship will enable him to pursue the kind of bold, high-concept research that can lead to major advances in medicine, particularly related to the early developmental stages of cancer.”

Shiekhattar’s research focuses on the molecular events that contribute to tumor growth, specifically, the biochemical isolation of proteins encoded by genes known to be involved in cancer. His laboratory pursues research in two major areas: the molecular mechanisms of cancer and epigenetic regulation of gene expression.

Shiekhattar and his team discovered the machinery by which small bits of RNA known as microRNAs are processed and the mechanism microRNAs use to block the cellular machinery responsible for translating messenger RNA into proteins. This gene-silencing is crucial – microRNAs have been implicated in many cancers, and defining this mechanism gives researchers promising potential targets for new cancer therapies. In separate studies, Shiekhattar identified a group of enzymes known as histone demethylases, as being responsible for modifying chromatin which controls the opening and closing of the cell’s DNA to the cellular machinery that transcribes genes into the body’s many proteins. The discovery provides fundamental insight into the mechanisms governing gene control, processes which, when they go wrong, can lead to cancer and other diseases.

“As the Kean Family Professor, I look forward to extending my laboratory’s experiments to elucidate the role of genomic-repression in oncogenesis,” said Shiekhattar. “Coming back to Wistar is a wonderful opportunity for us to renew and expand our collaborations with our Wistar colleagues in ongoing studies of gene expression and regulation.”                                       

Shiekhattar initially joined The Wistar Institute in 1997 as an assistant professor, and was promoted to associate professor in 2001 and to professor in 2006. He maintained his laboratory at Wistar and part-time faculty status while accepting a professorship at the CRG. Shiekhattar completed his postdoctoral training at Hahnemann University in Philadelphia and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey; he earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Kansas.

The Herbert Kean, M.D., Family Professorship was established in 2002 by Dr. Kean, a prominent Philadelphia surgeon, businessman, and philanthropist and his wife, the Hon. Joyce Kean. The endowed position honors Kean family members, including the late Jeannette Kean, Kean’s first wife, who died of breast cancer in 1989.

The Wistar Institute is an international leader in biomedical research with special expertise in cancer research and vaccine development. Founded in 1892 as the first independent nonprofit biomedical research institute in the country, Wistar has long held the prestigious Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute. The Institute works actively to ensure that research advances move from the laboratory to the clinic as quickly as possible. The Wistar Institute: Today’s Discoveries – Tomorrow’s Cures. On the Web at www.wistar.org.

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