The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation—a non-profit organization focused on supporting brilliant, early career researchers—has named 15 new Damon Runyon Fellows. Honored as one of the foundation's recently named fellows is Gabriel Muhire Gihana, who earned his Ph.D. in genome, cell, and developmental biology from Indiana University Bloomington in 2019.
Muhire Gihana, a postdoctoral researcher in the laboratory of Gaudenz Danuser at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, studies the gene RAS which is altered in more than 30 percent of human cancers. Oncogenic RAS induces pronounced changes in cell morphology, but it is unknown if the changes in cell morphology contribute to the potential of RAS to cause cancer. Muhire Gihana investigates the role of cellular morphology in mediating the oncogenic signaling of RAS in pancreatic cancer. He began his Damon Runyon Fellowship (The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research Fellowship) on January 1, 2021.
Muhire Gihana was born and raised in Rwanda, Africa. He was awarded a full college scholarship from a partnership between the government of Rwanda and California Baptist University (CBU) and completed his Bachelor of Science in biochemistry and molecular biology at CBU.
While completing his Ph.D. at IU, Muhire Gihana was a member of Associate Professor Soni Lacefield's lab in the College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Biology where he researched cell cycle and cell polarization.
"Gabriel is a very talented scientist, with a combination of natural intellectual abilities, tireless determination, and a drive for excellence," said Lacefield. "He is also a wonderful mentor and leader. He is truly deserving of this prestigious award."
Advanced academic research opportunities can be limited for African students. Muhire Gihana, who is appreciative of the help and encouragement he has received in pursuing academic research over the years, has been determined to help fellow Africans interested in graduate or doctoral programs in STEM fields. While a graduate student at IU, he and a former classmate and Rwanda native at CBU launched Afrisnet, or African STEM Network, a website that provides resources, information, and assistance to African students seeking academic opportunities or internships. Muhire Gihana serves on the Afrisnet board of directors.
Recipients of the four-year Damon Runyon Fellowship are outstanding postdoctoral scientists conducting basic and translational cancer research in the laboratories of leading senior investigators across the country. The fellowship encourages the nation's most promising young scientists to pursue careers in cancer research by providing them with independent funding to work on innovative projects. Muhire Gihana will receive $231,000 to carry out his research.
Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has gained worldwide prominence in cancer research by identifying outstanding researchers and physician-scientists. Twelve scientists supported by the foundation have received the Nobel Prize, and others are heads of cancer centers and leaders of renowned research programs. Each of its award programs is extremely competitive, with less than 13% of applications funded. Since its founding in 1946, the foundation has invested over $400 million and funded more than 3,850 scientists. This year, it will commit nearly $17 million in new awards to brilliant young investigators. One hundred percent of all donations to the foundation are used to support scientific research. Its administrative and fundraising costs are paid from its Damon Runyon Broadway Tickets Service and endowment.