Wilmot Cancer Center Honors Scientist for Cell Signaling Discovery

October 18, 2007

The James P. Wilmot Cancer Center today honored a scientist at the University of Rochester Medical Center for his research into the machinations of proteins and cells that could lead to development of new therapies for cancer and heart disease. Alan V. Smrcka, Ph.D., received the Davey Memorial Award for Outstanding Cancer Research during the 12th annual Scientific Symposium.

Smrcka, associate professor of Pharmacology and Physiology, Oncology and Biochemistry and Biophysics, studies the function of disease-relevant cell signaling molecules at atomic resolution with the aim to develop targeted therapeutic interventions.

The Davey Memorial Award for Outstanding Cancer Research was established as a tribute to R. Bruce Davey, who died in 1996.  Mr. Davey’s wife, Linda, is a founding member of the Cancer Center Board and served as its first chair. The Davey Award is given annually to scientists who have made outstanding contributions to cancer research.

Smrcka was recognized for the discovery of compounds that modulate the specificity of cell signaling by G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs). His ground-breaking work could lead to development of more effective drugs for treating diseases such as cancer, diabetes, depression, arthritis, and heart disease.

GPCRs transmit signals through G proteins that in turn activate many down-stream targets via protein-protein contacts. Alan Smrcka and his colleagues discovered that interactions of G proteins with some but not all of their targets can be modulated with small molecules. As a result, they were able to alter the specificity of G-protein signal transmission, thus enabling development of novel drugs with unprecedented selectivity.

His ground-breaking work could lead to development of more effective drugs for treating diseases such as cancer, diabetes, depression, arthritis, and heart disease

Smrcka, who lives in Brighton, studied biology at the University of Connecticut and earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Arizona. He completed post-doctoral work in the Pharmacology Department at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center with Paul Sternweis, Ph.D., before joining the Pharmacology faculty at the University of Rochester in 1994.

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