Peter Lewis Selected as Shaw Scientist - 21 May 2015

May 21, 2015

Milwaukee, Wis., May 21, 2015 – Two University of Wisconsin researchers – one investigating the genetic basis of cancer growth and the other, the role of genes in neural development and learning – have earned funding and a prestigious honor from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

Peter Lewis, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomolecular chemistry in the School of Medicine and Public Health, and Marc Wolman, Ph.D., assistant professor of zoology in the College of Letters and Science, have each received a $200,000 grant through the Foundation’s competitive Shaw Scientist Program. The annual award supports emerging investigators with innovative ideas in biochemistry, biological sciences and cancer research. Since the dollars are unrestricted, researchers can use their Shaw Scientist Award to develop preliminary data essential in competing for federal research funding.

“For more than three decades, the Shaw Scientist Program has rewarded the innovation of young investigators by providing valuable seed funding for their work,” said Ellen M. Gilligan, president and CEO of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. “Developing better treatments for disease takes an investment in promising research, and private philanthropic support can help move these projects out of the starting gate.”

Understanding how mutations cause cancer.

Overall, Dr. Lewis is studying how changes in the chemical composition of DNA and the proteins that package the human genome (together known as chromatin) influence whether particular genes are activated or silenced in a given type of cell. His current work relates to childhood cancers. Recent studies have shown that many pediatric cancers likely stem from mutations that cause a change in chromatin structure.

“The improper activation or silencing of genes can promote tumor formation by altering the normal pathways that keep cells from proliferating uncontrollably, a common feature of cancer cells,” Dr. Lewis said. “In addition to advancing current diagnostics, our present work will also identify new molecular targets for future therapeutic intervention of these devastating malignancies.”

Securing federal funding for promising new ideas can be challenging, because there is less data to demonstrate the merit of a novel design. The Shaw Scientist Award provides the means to pursue an experimental approach, Dr. Lewis said.

Dr. Lewis earned a bachelor of science from University of Virginia and a Ph.D. from University of California-Berkeley. His post-doctoral training was completed at The Rockefeller University.