Painter receives Cancer Research Institute fellowship

Funding will allow her to focus on cancer immunology research

By Ellie Castano

UMass Medical School Communications

July 18, 2012

Corrie Painter, PhD, is doing postdoc work in the lab of Craig Ceol, PhD, thanks to an Irvington Institute Fellowship.

photo by Bryan Goodchild


Recent Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences graduate Corrie Painter, PhD, has received an Irvington Institute Fellowship from the Cancer Research Institute to study cancer immunology in the lab of Craig Ceol, PhD, assistant professor of molecular medicine and cancer biology. The  Cancer Research Institute awards only a handful of Irvington Institute Fellowships annually, in a highly competitive process based on the qualifications and experience of both the applicant and the proposed sponsor, as well as the nature and feasibility of the proposed research and the training environment.

Dr. Painter, who earned her PhD in 2011, did her thesis research on protein biochemistry, specifically immune proteins, in the lab of Lawrence Stern, PhD, professor of pathology and biochemistry & molecular pharmacology. In Dr. Ceol’s lab, she will be using zebrafish melanoma models, seeking to understand how immune cells are involved in the development of tumors. Ceol has made pioneering discoveries in the genetic regulation of melanoma and Painter is hoping to build on this groundbreaking work.

The Irvington Institute Postdoctoral Fellowship Program of the Cancer Research Institute was established in 1971 and has funded more than 1,200 postdoctoral fellows, including two who later received Nobel Prizes. In 2012, $3.8 million was awarded to 23 fellows.

“Cancer Research Institute fellows are the very best young scientists working under the mentorship of the world’s most distinguished investigators to unravel the mysteries of the immune system and how it can be harnessed to conquer cancer,” says Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, PhD, CEO and director of scientific affairs at CRI. “Their research is shedding light on nearly every type of cancer, and their discoveries are leading to safer, more effective treatments for cancer patients.”

Painter is deeply committed to cancer immunology research. While working toward her PhD, she was diagnosed with angiosarcoma, a rare cancer that strikes about 300 people annually and has only about a 30 percent survival rate. The 2010 diagnosis spurred Painter to co-found Angiosarcoma Awareness Inc. to increase awareness of and raise research funds for this rare and variable cancer. She is currently cancer-free and looking forward to the next phase of her career.

“I am going to apply my background in immunology to the expertise that Craig has developed in zebrafish melanoma models in order to understand what happens on a cellular level between components of the immune system and cancer cells as cancer develops,” said Painter. “The hope is to learn why the immune system can't fight off the cancer and then to figure out how to add the missing components that will turn the immune cells into a cancer fighting arsenal. Ultimately, we're trying to understand how we can train the immune system to clear cancer as if it were an infection.”

Related links on UMassMedNow:
Facing a rare cancer and grim statistics, Corrie Painter decided to fight
Fish stripes give clues to fight melanoma