Molecular Biologist Gets Wilmot Cancer Center’s Top Scientific Honor

Nov. 11, 2010
Davey Award presentation highlights 15th annual Scientific Symposium
Dirk Bohmann, Ph.D.

Dirk Bohmann, Ph.D., an accomplished molecular biologist and geneticist, today received the 2010 Davey Memorial Award for outstanding cancer research. The award was presented during the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center’s15th annual Scientific Symposium, which celebrates the leading-edge cancer research of University of Rochester Medical Center physicians and scientists. Bohmann’s research has focused on answering fundamental questions about cancer, aging and metabolic regulation using a tiny, yet fascinatingly complex organism – Drosophila – more commonly known as fruit flies.

Bohmann, is director of the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology and the Graduate Program for Genetics, Genomics and Development and a professor of Biomedical Genetics.

He began his career looking at the extensive cell signaling processes that contribute to cancer in people. One of his early successes was the identification of a human proto oncogene known as c-jun that is now widely studied. But he switched to Drosophila because they’re simpler and easier to study, yet rely on much of the exact same signaling to develop, grow and function as humans do. The hope is that studies in fruit flies will provide new insights and ideas that can help to solve complex questions about human cancer.

Recently, scientists in his lab used the fruit fly’s metamorphosis from maggot to flying insect as a guide to identify a mechanism that may control tissue remodeling, a process that can be hijacked by cancers to transform functional tissues into malignant ones. His work, published in Developmental Cell, identifies a molecule that is critical for determining how cells invade and create new tissues. Similar tissue invasion processes that make cancer so deadly have proven very difficult for scientists to understand in enough depth to interrupt or stop the spread of cancer.

Bohmann received his Ph.D. in biology from the University of Tübingen in 1986, worked as a post-doc at University of California at Berkeley, and was senior scientist at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg before joining the University in 2001.

The Davey Memorial Award for Outstanding Cancer Research was established in memory of R. Bruce Davey, who was treated for cancer before his death in 1996. His wife, Linda Wells Davey, and sons, Peter and Jeffrey, created their own significant way to join Rochester’s fight against cancer. Linda Wells Davey served on the Cancer Center Board, dedicated to advancing local research and care, and served as its first chair.

The Daveys are true partners in the effort to promote community recognition of the Wilmot Cancer Center and the outstanding contributions each doctor, nurse, scientist and support staff member makes to improve cancer care and find cures.