Huanhuan Joyce Chen and Samantha Riesenfeld named CRF Young Investigators

Two faculty members from the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago—Asst. Prof. Huanhuan Joyce Chen and Asst. Prof. Samantha Riesenfeld—have each received a Young Investigator Award from the Cancer Research Foundation. These research grants recognize university faculty in their first years of appointment and support young scientists as they pursue independent hypotheses and develop the preliminary data necessary to compete for major research grants.

Huanhuan Joyce Chen

Specializing in tissue engineering and stem cell biology, Chen’s research centers on applying technical advances, like human pluripotent stem cell-based modeling, to pursue long-standing questions in cancer research, stem cell biology, and regenerative medicine. Her current work examines tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) generated from the same cell source of human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs), and how the TAMs can become targets for cancer immunotherapy.

“Macrophage is highly plastic, and TAMs can exhibit either anti- or pro-tumor activities depending on the tumor progression,” said Chen. “Understanding the polarization of TAM from anti- to pro-tumor is of importance not only for cancer immunology, but also for the development of immunotherapies against the disease.

“We also engineered a cellular sensor to detect the polarization of TAM,” Chen added. “We proposed to exploit the model to identify master regulator(s) that initiate or boost the reprogramming of TAMs, and once identified, could serve as therapeutic targets for cancer.”

Chen said the award funds will go to support a postdoctoral scholar or student to conduct the proposed project.

“The award is a big encouragement for my new lab, which was set up during the pandemic,” Chen said. “It is also a recognition of our research, in which we apply newly established stem cell technology.”

Samantha Riesenfeld

An expert in computational biology and systems immunology, Riesenfeld is working on discovering the kinds of genomic information that machines can learn to extract from routine images of cancer tumors, and how that information can be used to build artificial intelligence systems that improve diagnostic and treatment decisions about cancer.

“My research group is collaboratively developing methods to enable limited genomic and transcriptional data to be leveraged broadly inpatient care through digital pathology, helping bridge the gap between genomics and traditional cancer pathology,” said Riesenfeld.

The CRF award will help Riesenfeld hire and support a postdoctoral scholar to work on the project.

“During my training, I made a major transition from a very different scientific discipline, which has led to fantastic scientific opportunities but also means that I don’t qualify for many early-career NIH awards,” Riesenfeld said. “I appreciate that the CRF award recognizes researchers from different backgrounds.”

The CRF Young Investigator Award was established nearly 30 years ago. The award acknowledges new ideas from a diverse range of scientific fields, from oncology and pathology to data science, molecular chemistry, genomics, proteomics, and epigenetics. It provides each researcher $100,000 in two installments to gather primary data and establish themselves as a principal investigator.