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Wang Receives $195,000 Toxicology Award

by Alicia P. Gregory

It's a novel approach: cloning genes that could be used to shut down mutations that initiate cancer. UK's Zhigang Wang, assistant professor in the Graduate Center for Toxicology, is proposing to do just that with funding from one of the top awards in his field. Wang is one of four researchers in the country to receive a 1998 Burroughs Wellcome Fund New Investigator Award in Toxicology.

"I was very excited about this award for two reasons: one is that they recognized the importance of our work and offered support, but more important is the prestige and reputation of this nationally competitive award," Wang says. "This award is recognition of the quality of research we are doing at UK."

The $195,000 New Investigator Award spans three years and is intended to encourage the development of talented young scientists who will bring new ways of thinking and novel experimental approaches to toxicology.Photo of Zhigang Wang

Wang says his approach is to look at the fundamental causes of cancer. Wang and his colleagues study how DNA damage, caused by radiation or chemical carcinogens, turns into cancer-causing mutations in humans.

 "For cancer to initiate and develop from a benign tumor to a late-stage cancer that spreads through the body, mutations must occur," Wang says. His goal is to understand the basic mechanism of how mutation happens by identifying and cloning the genes required for generating mutations after the human body is exposed to carcinogens. "The idea is once we find these genes and find ways to suppress them, we could take away that building block for cancer," he says.

Wang believes the genes, or the proteins they encode, may be used as therapeutic "targets" to stop cancer-causing processes. "Identifying these genes offers us an opportunity to design a new strategy for cancer prevention and suppression. This is really a brand new idea in the field," Wang says.

A native of China, Wang completed undergraduate work at East China Normal University, and received his Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin. He completed postdoctoral training at Stanford University and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Wang joined the UK faculty in February 1996.

"We recruited Zhigang from one of the top DNA repair labs in the country," says Mary Vore, director of the Graduate Center on Toxicology. "This award reflects well on his ability and demonstrates the committee's belief that the University of Kentucky is a supportive and nurturing research environment in which he will succeed."

Other Burroughs Wellcome Fund award recipients included researchers at the Baylor College of Medicine, Rockefeller University and Northwestern University.