Indian American Harvard assistant professor awarded Gale and Ira Drukier Prize

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Dr. Vijay Sankaran (Courtesy: Twitter)

Dr. Vijay Sankaran, an Indian American assistant professor at Harvard Medical School who is also a pediatric hematologist and oncologist at Dana-Farber/Boston’s Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, has been awarded the third annual Gale and Ira Drukier Prize in Children’s Health Research from Weill Cornell Medicine.

According to a Cornell press release, Sankaran is a physician-scientist who investigates the molecular underpinnings of pediatric genetic blood disorders and his research has made important contributions to improving the health of children and adolescents, earning him the award.

Sankaran is specifically being recognized for his innovative research on red blood cell disorders, using genetic studies to understand how blood cell production occurs normally and how it goes awry in disease leading to promising new therapeutic approaches for these disorders.

“I’m incredibly humbled to be getting this award. In addition to honoring the work that we’ve done in the lab, and the great mentorship I’ve received, I’m extremely grateful that this award is given for child health research. With increased support, there are tremendous opportunities for us to advance the work being done in this area so that we can protect the health of future generations,” Sankaran said in a statement.

Sankaran’s research focuses on inherited diseases, such as sickle cell disease and thalassemia, that affect molecules called hemoglobin, which are present in all red blood cells and are responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the body, according to Cornell’s press release.

His recent contribution for Diamond-Blackfan anemia, rare genetic blood disorder in which the bone marrow fails to produce enough red blood cells, revealed that for the seven per one million people affected by the disease worldwide who have mutations that disrupt ribosomes, the more common defect in them was causing the disease by disrupting the production of GATA1, a master regulator of blood production, and those findings underscored that raising levels of GATA1 in cells may be an effective new treatment for Diamond-Blackfan anemia, something that Sankaran is pursuing using gene therapy and small molecule approaches.

Sankaran and his colleagues are also developing gene therapy methods to reduce the levels of BCL11A in patients’ blood stem cells which are then reintroduced into their bodies to populate their blood with cells that can produce more fetal hemoglobin.

“Dr. Sankaran is a talented physician-scientist whose steadfast commitment to pediatric research and clinical care exemplifies the spirit of our Gale and Ira Drukier Prize in Children’s Health Research. His research on the causes of genetic blood disorders and his work to translate those findings into new treatments; have provided hope to children and their families who are suffering from these diseases. We’re delighted to honor him with this year’s Drukier Prize,” Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine, said in a statement.

Sankaran is a member of numerous organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Society of Hematology, the American Society of Clinical Investigation, the American Society of Human Genetics and the Society for Pediatric Research, which awarded him the Young Investigator Award in 2015.

According to his university bio, Sankaran has received a Bachelors and a Master’s in biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania along with an M.Phil. in biochemistry from the University of Cambridge and earned an M.D. and Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School.

The Gale and Ira Drukier Prize in Children’s Health Research was established in 2014 as part of a $25 million gift to Weill Cornell Medicine, according to the Cornell press release.

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