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Zhang 2019 KCA Young Investigator Award

September 20, 2019
By: Jessica Hyland, Communications Strategist

The Kidney Cancer Association (KCA) awarded a prestigious Young Investigator Award (YIA) to Tian Zhang, MD, MHS, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Duke Cancer Institute.

The $75,000 award will fund ongoing research with an immediate impact in the field of kidney cancer. Zhang joins three other recipients nationwide selected for the award.

“This award is just a stepping stone to evaluate biomarkers in treatment selection for kidney cancer patients. I very much appreciate the support from the Kidney Cancer Association and their emphasis on funding studies that aim to understand disease biology to select optimal treatments for our patients,” said Zhang.  “I will use the funding to further evaluate the kidney cancer microenvironment and its immune characteristics. Ultimately, our research is patient-centered and focused on improving care for future patients. I hope to make significant strides in understanding characteristics of the kidney cancer microenvironment and using these biomarkers to select treatment for our kidney cancer patients.”

Zhang’s project, “Immune correlates of immunotherapy responses in renal cell carcinoma,” studies the tumor microenvironment (TME) characteristics and responses to immunotherapy. Today, patients with metastatic clear cell renal cell carcinoma have several options when it comes to first-line immunotherapy, including combination treatments with immunotherapies as well as combinations of immunotherapies with VEGF inhibitors that stop blood vessels from growing excessively. Zhang had preliminary data from a prior cohort of patients treated with nivolumab, in which gene expression profiles of 5 genes correlated with treatment resistance, and will now investigate these gene expression profiles and their association with resistance to ipilimumab/nivolumab combination therapy.

“There are few achievements I value more than seeing those who I mentor succeed. We have an opportunity at Duke to make transformative strides in this field, and it is an honor and privilege to lead this team,” said George. “Our medical oncology team at Duke is still relatively small, but growing. Career development awards like the KCA YIA are external validation that the culture, science and clinical care at Duke is worthy of support. That recognition will help us not only develop Dr. Zhang’s career, but inspire others to follow in her footsteps at Duke. It is what I hope to achieve with every faculty and trainee in our program.”

The KCA established the YIA for promising researchers in urology and clinical oncology who are pursuing an investigative career in kidney cancer, promoting the collaboration between clinicians and researchers to study novel ideas that will change the field of kidney cancer. Research may include biomarker development, development of novel therapeutic targets, correlative studies associated with ongoing or completed clinical trials, or assays that promote the early detection of kidney cancer.

Topics: kidney cancer