Perera Named 2021 Günter Blobel Early Career Awardee

Rushika M. Perera, associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, has been awarded the 2021 Günter Blobel Early Career Award. This award is given to an outstanding life scientist who has served as an independent investigator for no more than seven years as of the annual nomination deadline. It was previously called the Early Career Life Scientist Award but was renamed in 2020 to honor Günter Blobel.

Perera’s research seeks to find out how changes in organelle composition and function contribute to cancer cell metabolism, growth, stress adaptation, and survival. She will present the talk “New Features and Functions of Cancer Lysosomes” during a Minisymposium at Cell Bio Virtual 2021. She will also receive a $1,000 cash prize.

“I have had a long-standing interest in understanding how cancer cells evolve, adapt, grow, and migrate to distant sites,” Perera wrote to ASCB. “We have focused on defining how highly aggressive Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma (PDA) cells utilize autophagy and the lysosome to adapt to stress. Our studies have uncovered new mechanisms for how lysosome biogenesis is uniquely regulated in PDA, how autophagy and lysosomes cooperate to shield cancer cells from detection by the immune system, and identified how PDA cells hijack membrane repair pathways to protect and prolong the activity of their lysosomes. Together, these studies highlight my overall mission of applying fundamental principles in cell biology to unravel unique vulnerabilities of cancer cells.”

Perera completed her doctoral research between the University of Melbourne in Australia and the Department of Cell Biology at Yale School of Medicine, under the joint supervision of Derek Toomre and Pietro De Camilli.

“I carried out initial postdoctoral studies at Yale, before joining the lab of Dr. Nabeel Bardeesy at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School,” she explained.

Perera is well traveled and has lived in four different countries: Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Australia—where she grew up— and now the United States.

“These experiences have allowed me to absorb the cultures of different people and to fully appreciate the benefits of open-mindedness, inclusiveness, and collaboration,” she said. “Teaching in the classroom and in the lab has been one way that I can help level the playing field and ensure everyone—regardless of background, learning style, and prior experience—has an equal opportunity to excel. I am incredibly grateful to the ASCB for recognizing our work at the interface of cell biology and cancer. It is truly an honor to receive this award.”

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Mary Spiro is ASCB's Science Writer and Social Media Manager.