NF Research Initiative

CTF Young Investigator Awards

MPNST Young Investigator Awards


The Children's Tumor Foundation's Young Investigator Awards

From the CTF Website:

"CTF’s longest running program, the YIA provides two-year funding, commensurate with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to young scientists early in their careers, bringing them into the NF field and helping to establish them as independent investigators. Initiated in 1985 by the Foundation, the YIA program was, until 2006, CTF’s sole ongoing grant mechanism. A number of YIAs have made significant research findings and notable publications through this program. In addition, the YIA program has been a 'seeding mechanism' for researchers and their mentors, who could showcase their Foundation-funded research to secure larger grants from the NIH and the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program - Neurofibromatosis Research Program (CDMRP-NFRP). CTF’s seeding of the NF field with new talent has been hailed as a key reason for the rapid growth of NF research in recent years."

"The 2017 YIA program has a special emphasis on MPNST, with funding for at least one meritorious application reserved for applicants who focus on the goal of translating genomic information into medical treatments for MPNST. More details are provided in the application form."

The NF Research Initiative is a proud sponsor of the following Young Investigator Awardees:


2018 NFRI-funded Young Investigators


Jamie grit

Van Andel Research Institute

Understanding how MPNSTs develop and progress in individuals with NF1 is key to understanding how to effectively treat these aggressive tumors. The goal of this proposal is to identify how RAS signaling is different between MPNSTs with mutations in NF1, compared to those with mutations in both NF1 and p53 genes. The most important result o fthis study will be the identification of a drug combination that blocks RAS signaling and stops MPNST growth even in p53 tumors. *From CTF website:


Dong hyuk ki, phd

Dana Farber Cancer Institute

The focus of this proposal is to test several drugs specific to the elF4E pathway for antitumor activity and toxicity, and to also identify key proteins that depend on this pathway for expression. This study will clarify the mechanisms underlying the activity of mTOR inhibitors against NF1-associated MPNSTs, potentially leading to new and complimentary strategies to inhibit these pathways. *From CTF website:

2017 NFRI- funded Young Investigators


kyle b. williams, phd

University of Minnesota

The focus of my training and research has evolved from basic science to more clinically relevant and applied projects. This progression lead me to an exciting opportunity working on mechanisms of tumor formation and cancer development related to Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1). My previous work focused on drug sensitivity, protein interactions, and genetic screens in bacteria. I feel there are great opportunities in applying those types of techniques to work on cancer cells. New technologies such as next generation sequencing, gene knockout libraries, and proteomics profiling now let us apply great power to the study of human cells in culture disease modeling.

My current work in the laboratory is focused around both assessing effectiveness of signaling pathway inhibitors and searching for novel pathways to target for therapy in the future. For example, I have developed cell lines deficient in the NF1 gene (mimicking that genetic aspect of the disease). I am currently using these for small molecular/drug and genetic screens as part of the CTF Synodos for NF1 project. My proposal for the Children's Tumor Foundation Young Investigator Award builds upon this work, allowing us to conduct medium scale combination drug screens to target tumors and identify genetic interaction maps of dependencies in NF1 deficient cells.

Lai Man (Natalie) Wu.jpg

lai man (natalie) wu, Phd

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center

My major research interests revolve around two distinct, yet intersecting areas: 1) to understand how myelinating glia subtypes (oligodendrocytes and Schwann cells) in the central and peripheral nervous systems develop into myelin-forming cells and how they are regenerated after injury, and 2) how these differentiated cells or their progenitors are transformed into tumorigenic cells under pathological conditions. Although trained as a developmental biologist, I have had a long-standing interest in how signaling pathway dysregulation contributes to cancer. Specifically, I am fascinated by the remarkable plasticity of Schwann cells in response to injury, which has important implications for cancer. My research background in Schwann cell biology has prepared me well for the transition into Schwann cell-associated tumor research, such as MPNST.

*In February 2018,Cancer Cell published lead author Dr. Lai Man (Natalie) Wu's article Programming of Schwann Cells by Lats1/2-TAZ/YAP Signaling Drives Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumorigenesis