An assistant professor in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Hawai`i at Hilo has received a career development award of $675,000 from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This is a first for UH Hilo, and the only award of this type from the NCI to be given to a Native Hawaiian in the entire UH System.
Dana-Lynn T. Koomoa-Lange is working on a cure for an extra-cranial pediatric cancer that arises from nerve cells — a disease with a higher incidence among Native Hawaiians and other Native Americans compared to Caucasians.
A National Institutes of Health (NIH) requirement of the award is that the research be performed “under the guidance of an experienced mentor, or sponsor, in the biomedical, behavioral, or clinical sciences leading to research independence.” Dean John Pezzuto is the faculty mentor for the grant. “This is a highly competitive and prestigious award, one which very few in the entire University of Hawai`i System will ever have a chance to receive. “Dana is a very talented scientist who is destined to be one of our stars,” said Pezzuto, who is well known for his research that identified resveratrol as a cancer-fighting agent in grapes and grape products (including red wine). Pezzuto has taken part in hundreds of cancer research projects, many at his previous post with the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Koomoa-Lange grew up in Hawai`i and received her bachelor’s degree in biology from San Diego State University. She earned her Ph.D. from the Department of Biology and Medicine (Molecular Pharmacology, Physiology and Biotechnology) at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and returned to Hawai`i to work as a post-doctoral associate at the Center for Biomedical Research at Queen’s Medical Center. Her second post-doctoral position was with the Cancer Research Center of Hawai`i (now called the University of Hawai`i Cancer Center), where she worked with André S. Bachmann, who is now the chair of CoP’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. She joined the CoP faculty in 2011.
According to Bachmann, who has been researching neuroblastoma for the last 10 years, “I am very pleased Dana will have the opportunity to focus on treatment strategies for this dreadful disease that accounts for about 15 percent of all childhood cancer deaths each year. She is a brilliant scientist. We all hope her work will make a difference.”