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Endowments at UVA

Harry Flood Byrd, Jr., Professorship in Biochemistry


The Harry Flood Byrd, Jr., Professorship in Biochemistry was created through a bequest from James F. Lewis Jr. to honor the Winchester business leader and former U.S. senator. Senator Byrd is the son of Harry Byrd Sr., former Virginia governor and U.S. senator. The younger Senator Byrd attended the Virginia Military Institute and the University of Virginia before being elected to the Virginia Senate in 1948. In 1965, he won a U.S. Senate seat, which he held until 1983. Senator Byrd died in 2013. James F. Lewis Jr. was the vice president of Champion Spark Plugs and the owner of the Lewisfield Arabian Horse Farm in Charlottesville.

The Board of Visitors elected Anindya Dutta, MD, PhD, to the Harry Flood Byrd Jr. Professorship in Biochemistry in 2003. He chairs the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics and, as one of the basic science
department chairs, plays a key role in UVA School of Medicine leadership.

In 2015-16, Dr. Dutta and his laboratory made new discoveries related to their research on the biochemical mechanisms that give rise to certain cancers. Specifically, his group published a paper in "Cell Reports" in 2015 that followed up on a discovery they made a few years ago. That discovery (published in "Science" in 2012) involved the presence of small circles of human DNA-called microDNA-outside human chromosomes in several normal tissues and cancer cell lines. More recently, the team found that these microDNAs are, in fact, ubiquitous and arise from "hot-spots" in chromosomes caused by some kind of DNA damage resulting from active gene expression. Furthermore, a DNA repair pathway (called mismatch repair), known to be mutated in several cancers, may have a role in producing these microDNAs. In addition, the lab reported in a paper published in "Nature Communications" (2015) that two genes, named MCM8 and MCM9, play an important role in protecting our cells from cancers-by ensuring proper repair of "double-strand DNA breaks." Dr. Dutta's lab found that between 6 percent and 10 percent of prostate cancers delete MCM9 completely. Their findings have a silver lining: cancers that have deleted the MCM9 gene are highly sensitive to certain drugs, including platinum, so patients with this biomarker could benefit immensely from appropriate treatment of these tumors. Detecting MCM9 gene loss is therefore a way to identify cancer patients who should be put on platinum drugs immediately.

Dr. Dutta continues to teach both PhD and undergraduate students on topics such as DNA replication and the cell cycle, microRNAs in the regulation of differentiation and genomic technologies for the assessment of cancers. In 2015-16, trainees from his lab became a Ramalingaswami Fellow for the Department of Biotechnology at the University of Kashmir (run by the government of India) and a principal investigator at the RNA Institute (part of SUNY in Albany New York); two others took teaching positions at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (Harvard Medical School).

In 2015-16, Dr. Dutta presented at several international meetings, including the Keystone Symposium on Long Noncoding RNAs, and the annual meetings of the American Society for Investigative Pathology and the American Society for Biochemisty and Molecular Biology. He was a keynote speaker at the University of Zurich's annual retreat for PhD students, and as the winner of the 2016 Mark Brothers Prize at the University of Indiana School of Medicine, he spoke to that university community in April on the topic "MicroDNAs, Histone Chaperones and MCM8-9: New Windows into Genomic Instability." He also gave invited seminars at numerous universities across the United States and world, including Tokyo University, the University of Toronto, Seoul National University, Yale University, Harvard's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and the Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute (in Tampa, Florida), among others.

History of Past Recipients and Projects