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Earlham physics professor Michael Lerner awarded national fellowship for cancer research

April 28, 2020

Michael LernerAssociate Professor of Physics Michael Lerner has been awarded a highly competitive Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award for Seniors Fellows from the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute. His F33 fellowship is one of only two actively funded F33 fellowships across the entire NIH for this funding cycle.

Lerner’s fellowship will support a portion of his salary to pursue a new interdisciplinary research agenda with collaborators Joel Bader and Andy Ewald at Johns Hopkins University. This ongoing research collaboration will combine aspects of physics, biology and data science to predict and target the genetic drivers of breast cancer metastasis — its spread from the site of origin to secondary locations in the body. Lerner will lend his expertise in statistical physics to his Johns Hopkins collaborators to analyze how information flows through biological networks in order to identify new points of intervention for cancer therapies.

“Cancer is the second most common cause of death in the world, and in the United States,” Lerner said. “While cancer therapies almost exclusively target tumor growth and cell proliferation, for breast cancer and many other cancers, mortality is due to metastasis. Unfortunately, many of the molecular requirements of metastasis remain unknown.”

This collaboration with Johns Hopkins is a mutually beneficial long-term arrangement that will involve Earlham students at the forefront of biophysical research and allow them to contribute to development of potential future cancer drugs. “It gives us a chance to make a real-world difference,” Lerner notes.

The F33 fellowship is the second research-based award supporting Lerner’s 2019-20 sabbatical research agenda. He also is the recipient of a Burroughs Wellcome Fund Collaborative Research Training Grant in support of travel and lodging, which allowed him to work fulltime in his collaborators’ experimental and computational laboratories at Johns Hopkins in fall 2019.

“These grants will strengthen connections between my research group on campus and two labs at Johns Hopkins,” Lerner said. “Earlham students will be involved in the project and I will teach relevant computational oncology modules in all my classes from my introductory physics courses to my upper-level courses.”

Lerner is a computational biophysicist who studies membranes, lipids, computational oncology, and biomolecular dynamics, to examine problems from basic physics to drug design. He teaches courses that include Thermal and Statistical Physics, Matter in Motion, Biophysics, and Student Research in Physics.

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Lerner’s research and commitment to undergraduate teaching contributes to Earlham’s reputation as a national leader in the liberal arts for outstanding learning opportunities, scholarship and mentorship. The college ranks 36th among 1,592 colleges for the percentage of graduates who go on to earn PhDs across all disciplines — 12th out of 1,384 in the life sciences. The Princeton Review features Earlham annually as one of the nation’s 20 best classroom experiences based on student feedback regarding their professors, the quality of their classroom and lab facilities, the amount of in-class time devoted to discussion, and the percent of classes they attend.

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Editor’s note: Research reported in this press release was supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under award number F33CA247344 and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund under award number 1019964. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health or the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

— EC —

Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a College That Changes Lives. We aspire to provide the highest quality undergraduate education in the liberal arts and sciences. We expect our students to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success.

Princeton Review ranks Earlham in the Top 20 nationally for Best Classroom Experience, and U.S. News & World Report recognizes the College as one of 55 institutions taking pioneering approaches to serving students, and ranks EC 7th for the percentage of international students on campus, 25th for “Best Undergraduate Teaching” and 34th for “Best Value.”

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at 765-983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.


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