September 21, 2020

Cancer Biology Graduate Program’s Allison Mitchell wins 2020 Leonard N. Simons Award

Allison Mitchell
Doctoral candidate Allison Mitchell holds the 2020 Leonard N. Simons Award for Exemplary Research and Scholarship Achievement.

Allison Mitchell, a doctoral candidate in the Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Cancer Biology Graduate Program, won this year’s Leonard N. Simons Award for Exemplary Research and Scholarly Achievement.

Mitchell is in her sixth year of the program and is mentored by Associate Professor of Oncology Guojun Wu, Ph.D.

“I am honored to be receiving this award. It feels great to be recognized for all the hard work that goes into scientific research by my mentors and the faculty at Wayne State University. I would also like to thank the family of Leonard N. Simon for making this award possible and for supporting cancer research trainees,” she said.

 “The reason I nominated Allison is not just because of her academic achievements,” Dr. Wu added. “I really appreciate her attitude in learning. She always listens to other people's suggestions and wants to discuss with other people. She always aims higher and devotes time and energy to do hard work.”

Mitchell studies a gene called FOXQ1 in Dr. Wu’s lab.  Dr. Wu and colleagues discovered that the gene causes breast cancer cells to spread throughout the body and form metastatic tumors.

“FOXQ1 is a transcription factor, which means it binds to DNA and regulates the expression of other genes. My project uncovers where FOXQ1 binds throughout the genome to give the cell metastatic capabilities and how FOXQ1 recruits or ‘hijacks’ an enzyme complex known as MLL to regulate gene expression,” Mitchell said. “We have found that disrupting the ability of FOXQ1 to recruit MLL to DNA leads to a delay in tumor formation and a decrease in metastasis in mice. The long-term goal of this work is to develop a therapeutic strategy to block FOXQ1 and MLL from interacting in cancer cells to improve patient outcomes.”

In 2016, the Leonard N. Simons Award for Exemplary Research and Scholarly Achievement was established in the Cancer Biology Graduate Program at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and WSU. Simons served as the first chair of the board of Michigan Cancer Foundation (now the Karmanos Cancer Institute) and throughout his life he was a passionate supporter of Detroit efforts in the fight against cancer. The award pays tribute to Simons and his dedication to excellence in science and education.

The Leonard N. Simons Cancer Research Endowment provides funding for the Leonard N. Simons Award for Exemplary Research and Scholarly Achievement.