Postdoctoral researcher earns K99 Award from the National Cancer Institute

Hans-Martin Herz, PhD, was selected to receive a Pathway to Independence award from the National Cancer Institute. This two-phase award is designed to facilitate, even speed the transition of promising postdoctoral fellows to fully-fledged investigators: they are first provided up to two years of mentored research support (K99 phase), followed by three years of their first independent research support (R00 phase) in an approved tenure-track or equivalent faculty position.

Herz is studying the role of Drosophila Trithorax-related (Trr) and its human homologs, MLL3/MLL4, in enhancer-mediated tumor formation. Enhancers are DNA elements that regulate tissue-specific gene expression; the enzymes MLL3/MLL4 function at enhancer regions. There, they decorate histones— responsible for rendering DNA inaccessible, or uncoiling it to allow gene expression—at a particular location, H3K4, with a methyl group. MLL3/MLL4 are frequently mutated in leukemia and other cancers, which is thought to result in malfunctioning enhancers and, therefore, dysregulated gene expression. Herz wants to identify the specific enhancer-mediated processes that are misregulated in cancers bearing MLL3/MLL4 mutations, which they hope might lead to the development of specific drugs targeting these processes.