Dr. Anna S. Nam, an assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, has received a 2020 Early Independence Award from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) High Risk, High Reward Research program and a 2020 Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award for Medical Scientists.
The two highly selective awards will provide approximately $2 million in grants to help advance Dr. Nam’s career as she establishes her own laboratory in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and mentors other rising scientists at Weill Cornell Medicine.
Dr. Nam received both awards for her innovative work studying blood cell cancers called myeloproliferative neoplasms. Oncologists now routinely identify cancer-causing mutations by sequencing the DNA of patients, which allows them to better predict the course of the disease and select the best therapy. However, for reasons that are currently unknown, there can be differences in outcomes in patients with the same cancer-causing mutations. Dr. Nam’s laboratory is studying how factors beyond genes, like epigenetics or the environment inside a patient’s bone marrow, may play a role.
She has already led the development of a new single-cell RNA sequencing technique that distinguishes blood cells with a cancer-causing mutation from normal blood cells within a patient.
“My aim is to understand why patients with the same cancer-causing mutations may have different degrees of disease severity or responses to treatment. I believe single cell sequencing technologies are a powerful approach to help address this question,” she said. Her lab’s findings may enable more personalized treatment approaches that target both genetic and non-genetic contributors to disease, which Dr. Nam hopes will lead to better outcomes for patients. “These awards will help me expand upon my expertise in single-cell sequencing technologies to better understand how mutations that affect blood cell formation result in cancer.”
The Early Independence Award is one of several prestigious NIH Director’s Awards managed by the NIH Common Fund. It supports exceptional junior scientists who have recently completed clinical training or a PhD program, to help them skip traditional post-doctoral training and move into independent research positions.
“The path toward independence is particularly long for physician-scientists because we're gaining expertise in both science and medicine,” Dr. Nam said. “I'm very grateful to have NIH’s support to catalyze my research program at this critical juncture in my career.” While research is her primary focus, she devotes 20% of her professional time on the molecular hematopathology service, where she reviews clinical sequencing data for patients with suspected or confirmed blood cancers.
The NIH award will provide Dr. Nam with $1.25 million in funding over 5 years, which will allow her to recruit additional graduate students and post-doctoral fellows to join her lab.
The Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award for Medical Scientists is designed to support promising early career physician-scientists’ transition into their own laboratories. The award will provide Dr. Nam $700,000 over five years and provides her a high degree of flexibility as she builds her lab.
“I’m grateful that the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, which is such an outstanding champion of biomedical research, has given me this opportunity to take on high-risk, high-reward projects,” Dr. Nam said.
In addition to the financial support, Dr. Nam said she is looking forward to becoming part of two excellent communities.
“I am incredibly honored to be part of both groups of high-caliber scientists,” she said. “I am excited to launch my research program with the support of these great communities of researchers.”
Dr. Nam’s work is supported by the NIH Common Fund, grant number DP5 OD029619-01.