Researcher Spotlight: Graham McVicker, Salk Institute

Pictured: Team SCC- Salk Cancer Center Team, Graham McVicker is third from right.


Meet Graham McVicker, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Laboratory of Genetics and the Integrative Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute. Earlier this year, he received one of 12 Padres Pedal grants awarded with our 2016 donation, along with Jesse Dixon, Ph.D., of the Salk Institute and Dr. Dennis Kuo of Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego. Graham is a two-time Padres Pedal rider and will be a two-day rider this year.

The research project is titled: “Discovery of non-coding oncogenic mutations in pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia using ATAC-seq and Hi-C”.

We caught up with Graham to discuss his research project, talk about the importance of private funding for researchers, and asked him if he had any words for our Padres Pedal community.

Pedal: What has it meant to your research to have been awarded a Padres Pedal the Cause Research Grant?

Graham: The Research Grant has helped my Lab and the Dixon Lab at the Salk Institute catalyze a new collaborative project to study pediatric leukemia with Dr. Dennis Kuo at Rady Children’s Hospital. This is our first time working on a project together and we are excited about the potential to make new discoveries.


Pedal: What can you tell us about the progress of your project?

Graham: Leukemia is fundamentally a genetic disease, and the rapidly decreasing cost of DNA sequencing now allows us to molecularly characterize leukemia tumors. Most research studies to date, however, have focused on the 2% of the genome that codes for proteins. Our team is developing new methods for identifying important mutations in the 98% of the genome that does not code for protein. We have developed new computational analysis methods to identify these mutations and we have been applying our methods to experimental data from cancer cell lines to test them out. The next stage is to perform sequencing experiments and computational analyses on leukemia cells obtained from patients. We are currently working with Rady Children’s Hospital to establish a protocol for the collection of patient samples. We expect to start analyzing patient samples in January or February.


Pedal: How would success in your research help improve the lives of child cancer patients?

Graham: We hope that the mutations we identify will provide insight into the genetic underpinnings of leukemia tumorigenesis and relapse. Potentially, mutations that we discover could eventually be used as prognostic biomarkers or lead to therapies that improve patient outcomes.


Pedal: How important is private funding through Padres Pedal to the research you and your colleagues conduct at Salk Institute and Rady Children’s?

Graham: The private funding is really instrumental for getting a project like this one off the ground. Since this is a brand new project and collaboration, we do not yet have sufficient data to secure funding from a government agency like the NIH. The money from the Pedal the Cause Research Grant is allowing us to initiate the project and obtain results that we can then use to apply for longer-term funding.


Pedal: Are there any words you like to share with Padres Pedal riders, donors and volunteers?

Graham: Thank you so much. The money that you raise really does help to accelerate cancer research and it is research that leads to better treatments, better early detection, and better survival.


Learn more about Graham McVicker’s work at the Salk Institute website!

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