Hughes Named a Damon Runyan Fellow

Elizabeth Hughes

Elizabeth R. Hughes, PhD, a postdoctoral associate in the Duke University School of Medicine’s Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, has been named a 2022 Robert Black Fellow by the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.  

Hughes was among 13 Damon Runyon Fellows named recently by the foundation. Damon Runyon Fellowships recognize outstanding postdoctoral scientists conducting basic and translational cancer research in the laboratories of leading senior investigators. The four-year fellowship encourages the nation's most promising young scientists to pursue careers in cancer research by providing them with independent funding, totaling $231,000, to work on innovative projects. 

Hughes is a scientist in the lab of Raphael H. Valdivia, PhD, professor of molecular genetics and microbiology and vice dean of basic science at the School of Medicine.  

She studies how gut microbes improve response to immune checkpoint inhibitors. Immune checkpoint inhibitors, a type of cancer treatment that helps immune cells identify and kill tumor cells, have been a major breakthrough in the treatment of many cancer types.  

Unfortunately, not all patients respond to this immunotherapy. The bacterium Akkermansia muciniphila lives in the gastrointestinal tract and has been shown to improve response to immune checkpoint inhibitors via poorly understood mechanisms. Hughes aims to discover how A. muciniphila improves response to cancer immunotherapies and to design microbe-based therapeutic strategies that will further enhance cancer immunotherapy responses.  

“Dr. Hughes is a dedicated, broadly curious scientist with a passion for microbes in the gut,” Valdivia said. “She is developing tools to achieve precision editing of the gut microbiota to influence immunity and health, including achieving better responses to cancer immunotherapies. This award from the Damon Runyon foundation is wonderful recognition of her talents and potential as a researcher. I am so proud to have her on our team.”

Hughes received her PhD from UT Southwestern Medical Center and her BS from Baylor University. 


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