SUNY Upstate Draws Premier Cancer Researcher to Faculty
Dr. Kerr's lab made breakthroughs to improve bone marrow transplant success.
William Kerr, PhD, joined the faculty at SUNY Upstate this April through the State University of New York's Empire Innovation program, aimed at attracting the country's most talented faculty researchers to SUNY campuses.
Kerr holds more than $3.8 million in NIH grant funding and was the Newman Scholar of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society from 2002 to 2007. At SUNY Upstate, he has dual appointments as a professor of Microbiology & Immunology and Pediatrics.
"I view myself as a problem solver, a puzzle solver" Kerr said. "I won't hesitate to attack the question with whatever methodology or technology I can use to get that answer."
His research includes investigating the role of genes in the function of blood-forming (hematopoietic) stem cells, and the role that a novel gene (LRBA) plays in cancer cells, in particular breast cancer, and immune cells.
A lot of institutions conduct stem cell research at the cellular level, Kerr said, "but we try to determine what makes stem cells tick at the molecular level."
Kerr also is studying an enzyme, known as SHIP, that plays a key role in the rejection of bone marrow and organ transplants.
The enzyme activates a cellular response that contributes to GvHD (graft versus host disease) and organ rejection. GvHD occurs in 20-30% of patients receiving bone marrow transplants from another person, Kerr said.
Using mice, Kerr's lab in Florida showed that mutating the SHIP gene "dampens" that immune system attack that occurs in GvHD allowing more mice to have successful transplants. Further studies on larger animal models using a small molecule to turn off SHIP are the next step, Kerr said.
Kerr spent the past nine years in Florida, where he was a Senior Member of the Immunology Program at the Moffitt Cancer Center and Professor of Oncological Sciences at the University of South Florida. At SUNY Upstate, Kerr is settling into his new lab in the main academic and research building, and is close to a pediatric oncology laboratory in the campus' University Hospital. His arrival coincided with his research being featured twice in the journal Blood, including the cover article.
Upstate Medical University will share a $12.1 million with two other upstate New York institutions as they work to develop a new medical treatment for multiple sclerosis.
Upstate’s Burk Jubelt, MD, professor of neurology, microbiology and immunology, is the project’s principal investigator.