Britta Will, Ph.D., Wins Pershing Square Sohn Prize for Cancer Research

July 29, 2020—(BRONX, NY)—Britta Will, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine and of cell biology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, has won a 2020 Pershing Square Sohn Prize for Young Investigators in Cancer Research. Dr. Will is one of seven New York City area-based scientists to receive the prestigious award, which provides $600,000 over three years for innovative basic science cancer research.

Dr. Will’s award will help fund her studies on the mechanisms that create and sustain cancer stem cells—a unique and therapy-resistant population of cancer cells in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), two age-related and largely incurable blood cancers.

“I’m very excited and honored that the Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance selected me for this award,” Dr. Will said. “The prize will boost my lab’s efforts to make scientific advances that can help us better understand these cancers and work toward developing drugs that can benefit patients. With every publication, with every piece of data we put out there, we increase the knowledge and our ability to help patients. Being able to work on this every day is a real privilege.”

When people have AML or MDS, a small population of cancerous blood stem cells, called leukemic stem cells (LSCs), resists chemotherapy and causes the cancers to relapse. Dr. Will plans to investigate how iron influences LSCs. Specifically, she will study iron regulatory pathways, key processes that determine how cells acquire and use this essential nutrient. In research involving mouse models of myeloid leukemia and human LSCs, she will determine whether limiting the cells’ access to iron can slow or prevent cancer growth. Results could lead to new drugs that could limit iron availability and make cancer stem cells more susceptible to chemotherapy.

Britta Will, Ph.D.

Britta Will, Ph.D.

Dr. Will noted that the prize specifically supports early-stage research that is impossible to get funded through traditional grants. “The Pershing Square Sohn Alliance’s mission stresses that no one should be afraid to start something new and out-of-the-box,” said Dr. Will, whose lab includes four postdoctoral researchers, a Ph.D. student, and several technicians. “This award enables us to step out of our comfort zone. It’s also a great encouragement that provides an ecosystem for younger trainees on these projects to develop their careers.”

"This is a well-deserved honor for Dr. Will," said Roman Perez-Soler, M.D., chief of medical oncology at Einstein and chair of oncology at Montefiore Health System. "Her creative and bold research earned her this award and we look forward to her continued success and scientific discoveries."

Dr. Will is the second Einstein faculty member to win the Pershing Square Sohn prize; in 2015, the Alliance awarded the honor to Evripidis Gavathiotis, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and of medicine.