Karmanos researcher receives Kales Award for studying cellular enzyme’s role in regulating cancer genes

Benjamin Kidder, Ph.D., has a fascination with studying the behavior of stem cells and how cell activity may eventually give rise to cancer.

"I use normal cells and genomics tools to understand epigenetic mechanisms of stem cell fate decisions," said Dr. Kidder, assistant professor in the Department of Oncology at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University School of Medicine (WSU SOM). "I study how stem cells renew themselves or differentiate. We apply knowledge from normal cells to understand cancer cells."

Dr. Kidder is this year's Kales Award winner and will be honored at a Grand Rounds ceremony on Thursday,  Nov. 1 in the Hudson Webber Cancer Research Center's Wertz Auditorium. He will speak about his research, specifically the publication for which he is being honored, "H3K4 demethylase KDM5B regulates global dynamics of transcription elongation and alternative splicing in embryonic stem cells."

The article was published in Nucleic Acids Research in 2017.

Dr. Kidder is the senior author of the article, with Runsheng He, Ph.D., previously of Karmanos and WSU SOM, as co-author.

The Kales Award was created in 2012 at the WSU SOM to recognize exemplary and innovative cancer research. It is supported by the Drs. Anthony and Joyce Danielski Kales Endowed Faculty Award for Innovative Cancer Research Endowment. Selection is based on a comprehensive review of published articles within the previous year.

Dr. Kidder describes his and his colleagues' research as completely new in understanding how KDM5B, a cellular enzyme, influences gene behavior. He says that the findings provide new insight into the role of KDM5B in controlling aspects of messenger RNA expression, which conveys genetic information from DNA to a cell.

"Because this enzyme, KDM5B, is found at high levels in multiple types of cancer, understanding how it controls expression of cancer genes may help to understand cancer formation, tumor progression, and response to therapies," Dr. Kidder said.

The KDM5B cellular enzyme is found particularly high in breast, ovarian, melanoma, lung, prostate, colorectal, gastric, glioma and kidney cancers.

Gerold Bepler, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO of Karmanos Cancer Institute, said that Dr. Kidder's research represents great progress in comprehending cellular behavior and its role in cancer development.

"This study sheds light on a mechanism that may explain why embryonic stem cells and cancer cells have such an astounding ability to adapt to their environment," said Dr. Bepler. "Dr. Kidder's research is an outstanding example of the type of groundbreaking work that all of our clinical and scientific researchers do to promote an understanding of cancer."

Dr. Kidder,  who has been with Karmanos and the school of medicine for three years, said he was surprised and pleased to receive the Kales Award.

"I'm honored to receive the award," he said. "I feel appreciative for the recognition of the work we've done over the years."