Dr. Cheryl Lyn Walker, director of the Center for Precision Environmental Health and professor in the Departments of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Medicine, and Molecular and Human Genetics at Baylor College of Medicine, has been awarded an Outstanding Investigator Award (R35) from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the first R35 from NCI to be awarded to a member of the Baylor faculty.

NCI’s Outstanding Investigator Award supports accomplished researchers and provides long-term support for investigators to embark on groundbreaking research concepts. The experiments proposed in this award, “A New Target for Chromatin Remodeler Defects in Cancer,” are designed to explore new avenues for understanding the impact of chromatin remodeler defects in cancer. 

Walker recently discovered that chromatin remodelers have a second important function remodeling the cytoskeleton, which has opened the door for development of therapies with efficacy against certain cancers.

“This R35 grant will allow us to focus our efforts on an exciting new discovery that represents a paradigm shift in how we look at chromatin remodeler defects in cancer,” said Walker, who also is a member of the NCI-designated Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor. “One of the best things about this grant is that it encourages continued research over the course of seven years, giving us sustained support and a generous timeline to make significant strides in our understanding of this new biology.”

The Walker lab focuses on understanding ways in which environmental carcinogens reprogram the epigenome. As an off-shoot of that research, the lab discovered a new function for the cell’s epigenetic machinery, and a new way for defects in chromatin remodeler genes to drive cancer.

“Our hypothesis for this project is that the cell machinery known for ‘reading, writing and erasing’ epigenetic methyl marks on chromatin has a second, equally important but previously unknown, function of ‘reading, writing and erasing’ methyl marks on the cytoskeleton. These cytoskeletal marks control critical aspects of cell biology, including chromosome segregation during cell division and cell motility, as well as key processes involved in cancer development and metastasis,” Walker said.

To support her project exploring chromatin remodeler defects in cancer, Walker’s R35 grant will provide $600,000 in funding every year for seven years.