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AAAS Wachtel Cancer Research Award 2022 for Anna Obenauf

27 Jul 2022

Anna Obenauf’s ground-breaking research in metastasis and the emergence of drug resistance in cancer was recognised with the AAAS Martin and Rose Wachtel Cancer Research Award. The prestigious prize for early career researchers is awarded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the journal Science Translational Medicine. 

The AAAS Martin and Rose Wachtel Cancer Research Award, which honours early career cancer researchers, was presented to the IMP’s Anna Obenauf for 2022. The award, which is given annually, was endowed through a generous bequest from Martin L. Wachtel to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Wachtel Award laureates are selected in a collaboration between AAAS and the journal Science Translational Medicine based on “the performance of outstanding work in the field of cancer research”.  

“Receiving the Wachtel Award is a great honour and a recognition for my entire lab,” said Anna Obenauf. “I am grateful to the many people who made this possible – first and foremost my fantastic lab members, but also my peers, donors, and colleagues at the Vienna BioCenter and in the wider cancer research community.” 

With her research group at the IMP, Anna Obenauf studies the molecular programs that drive the progression and immune evasion of metastatic cancer to develop therapeutic strategies that result in durable responses. Obenauf and her team discovered that melanomas that acquire resistance to targeted therapies which inhibit oncogenic signaling pathways simultaneously acquire cross-resistance to immunotherapy, an entirely different type of therapy can activate an immune response against cancer cells. They showed that this cross-resistance is induced by a ‘rewired’ MAPK signaling pathway, which activates a gene expression program that confers resistance to immunotherapy (Haas et al., Nature Cancer 2021). These findings, made in mouse models, were later confirmed by a prospective clinical phase-III trial, which indicates that further research into the optimal sequence of therapies is needed and may have important implications for the order in which patients should be treated with targeted and immunotherapies. 

The Obenauf lab also developed an innovative lineage tracing method, with which tumor founding clones can be retrospectively isolated from millions of cells prior to evolutionary selection. Using this ‘CaTCH’ technology, which is now used by many labs worldwide, Obenauf showed that resistance to targeted therapies mediated by mutations and epigenetic changes is often acquired during tumor evolution rather than, as previously thought, pre-existing (Umkehrer et al., Nature Biotechnology 2020). Other important results from the lab include the identification of new therapeutic approaches for rare cancers such as Merkel cell carcinoma (Leiendecker et al., EMBO Mol. Med. 2020). 

Anna Obenauf studied molecular biology at the University of Graz and obtained her PhD in molecular medicine from the Medical University of Graz. She then joined the lab of Joan Massagué at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center as a postdoctoral researcher in 2010, before starting her own lab at the IMP in 2016. Her promotion to senior scientist at the IMP was announced last month. Obenauf is recipient of the ASCINA Prize of the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research (2015), a Vienna Science and Technology Fund grant (2017), an ERC Starting Grant (2018), and an ALS Foundation grant (2022). In 2019, she was elected to the Young Academy of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Since 2021, she is an EMBO Young Investigator.

Wachtel Award Lecture 

Anna Obenauf will present her award-winning work in the frame of a virtual lecture on Friday, 29 July at 6 pm Vienna time. The event is hosted by hosted by the National Cancer Institute/National Institutes of Health. Participation is free, but required registration: 

Register here

About the Wachtel Award and AAAS 

The AAAS Martin and Rose Wachtel Cancer Research Award is given since 2013 and recognises early-career researchers for “the performance of outstanding work in the field of cancer research”. Award winners are invited to deliver a public lecture on their research, and an essay outlining their research is published in Science Translational Medicine.  

Martin Wachtel was a successful businessman who established a farm in New Jersey in 1993 to raise albino mice and rats for medical research which developed into a highly successful venture. Married but having no children, Wachtel sought to utilize his accumulated wealth to support and recognize those in the medical community who were having the greatest impact. 

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society and a leading publisher of highest quality research through its Science family of journals. 

Further Reading 

Anna C. Obenauf: “Mechanism-based combination therapies for metastatic cancer”. Science Translational Medicine 14, eadd0887 (2022). 

Wachtel Award 2022