Robert Lewis, Ph.D., named 13th Scientist Laureate

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations | March 05, 2019

Image with caption: Robert Lewis, Ph.D.

Robert Lewis, Ph.D.

Robert Lewis, Ph.D., the Edward and Lida Robinson Professor of Cancer Research at the Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer and Allied Diseases, will be recognized today as UNMC's Scientist Laureate, the medical center's highest honor for research.

Dr. Lewis sees the award as a challenge.

"I think it signals an expectation of what I should accomplish with the remainder of my time here," he said.

Dr. Lewis's research explores proteins that appear necessary for the viability, survival and growth of tumor cells but that are dispensable for the growth and survival of normal cells.

"The model is colon cancer, but theoretically it's applicable to other cancers in which the intracellular signaling pathways we're studying exist," Dr. Lewis said.

His research focus dates from 1996, when his team was studying a molecule called KSR1 in another project. Three research papers in a scholarly journal suggested a possible explanation for data that Dr. Lewis' team was seeing that they didn't understand.

"I actually got the cDNA, which is the gene coding sequence for this particular protein we were working on, from an author of one of the papers, and we started playing with it.

"When you remove this protein, KSR1, from the mice, the mice are normal but they're resistant to cancer."

The team also discovered that when a sister gene, KSR2, is removed from mice, the mice become obese and insulin resistant. But, thanks to insight from colleague Keith Johnson, Ph.D., Dr. Lewis' team recently found that small-cell lung carcinomas (SCLC) also strongly express the KSR2 protein.

"We have preliminary data, not yet published, that (KSR2) seems to be important for self-renewal of SCLC tumor propagating cells, the key cells within SCLC that are required for making the tumor.

"If you disrupt it from mice, the mice become obese, and if you disrupt it from the tumor cells, the tumor cells don't grow. So we're trying to find out whether SCLC tumors have specifically acquired the ability to make KSR2 to help them grow."

Dr. Lewis, who has been at UNMC since 1991, called the Scientist Laureate a great honor.

"It's a reflection of the work that the people in the lab have done, not just me," he said.

Dr. Lewis credited Ken Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., the current director of the Eppley Institute and the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, and his predecessor, Ray Ruddon, M.D., Ph.D., for their support of his work.

"The Eppley Institute has been a phenomenal environment in which to work," Dr. Lewis said. "It's a great place to let junior faculty members grow, and I feel like even as a senior faculty member, I'm extremely well supported, both financially and emotionally."


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Kim Bainbridge
March 05, 2019 at 10:42 AM

Rob Congratulations - well deserved. Great Person! Great Family!

March 05, 2019 at 8:58 AM


Tom O'Connor
March 05, 2019 at 8:56 AM

Congrats on this incredible honor, Rob! Great to see you get the recognition you deserve!

Irv Zucker
March 05, 2019 at 7:54 AM

Rob, Congrats...well deserved Irv

martin conda
March 05, 2019 at 6:21 AM

Congrats Rob, Well deserved!