Lerner Research Institute News

Read about the latest advances from Lerner Research Institute scientists, including new findings, grant awards, innovations and collaborations.

GMI Trainees Awarded Funding for Innovative Cancer Research

The VeloSano Trainee Dream Experiment Fellowship and Caregiver Catalyst Grant program have provided the trainees with funding to pursue their novel cancer research projects.


Blake Buchalter, PhD, MPH, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Stephanie Schmit, PhD, MPH, and Darren Liu, a Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine student and mentee of Charis Eng, MD, PhD, have each received $10,000 through the VeloSano Trainee Dream Experiment Fellowship to pursue highly innovative experiments in cancer research.

Dr. Buchalter will examine how a plethora of environmental variables, such as air toxins, water pollution and near-road environments, may contribute to the recent rise in young-onset colorectal cancer (yoCRC) incidence in the United States. Environmental variables will be studied in the context of the environmental exposome for yoCRC, where factors will be combined in a multivariable framework to directly examine their importance.

Mr. Liu aims to identify molecular signatures and their associated biological pathways that drive organ-specific carcinogenesis in PTEN hamartoma tumor syndrome (PHTS), a spectrum of rare genetic disorders defined by germline (heritable) mutations in the tumor suppressor gene PTEN. Using tissue obtained from autopsy from a patient with PHTS with multiple cancers, he will examine protein expression patterns from both non-cancer and cancer tissue at single cell/subcellular resolution in spatial relationship to one another to provide insight on how specific tissue microenvironments influence cancer initiation.

Juan Venegas, MD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Eng lab, received a $67,000 Caregiver Catalyst Grant to investigate and model the relationship between genetic thyroid cancer predisposition and environmental radiation in the context of germline PTEN mutations. Individuals with PTEN mutations are at an increased risk for thyroid cancer, but not all will develop the disease. This study will compare the molecular responses between different PTEN mutated and not mutated human thyroid organoids to clarify if environmental radiation is a significant contributor for thyroid cancer development in specific PTEN mutations. If successful, the project will begin to lay the groundwork for clinical protocols and novel preventive approaches for patients at a higher genetic risk.

Image (left to right): Blake Buchalter, PhD, MPH; Darren Liu; Juan Venegas, MD

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