Published: March 1, 2010

Traditional cancer research dollars often reward tried-and-true approaches, leaving young scientists who think outside the box empty-handed.

Hang “Hubert” Yin, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, hopes his research may change that. He will receive $750,000 over three years to focus on the Epstein-Barr virus, which benignly infects about 90 percent of all people but plays a role in certain lymphomas, such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma and post-transplant or AIDS-related lymphoma.

Scientists know the virus hijacks certain white blood cells — B cells — and makes them cancerous, but they know little about how the process happens because they don’t have tools to probe the protein that regulates the virus’ activities. Yin aims to devise a probe that will enable scientists to study the protein and develop drugs to fight the virus.

Among the hottest trends in cancer treatment are protein-targeting drugs such as Herceptin for breast cancer.

“If we are successful, we are going to have a very powerful tool that researchers could use to study the 25 to 30 percent of human proteins that are not accessible currently where you could name any protein and we can provide a specific tool with which you can study it,” Yin says.