Spurgeon Receives R50 Research Specialist Award

Dr. Megan Spurgeon, a scientist in Dr. Paul Lambert’s group, is the first recipient at the University of Wisconsin of an R50 Research Specialist Award. This new funding mechanism from the National Cancer Institute seeks to “encourage the development of stable research career opportunities for exceptional scientists who want to pursue research within the context of an existing cancer research program.”

The R50, a five-year award, provides the salary for its recipient, allowing the staff researcher some autonomy and alleviating financial strain on their Principal Investigator’s budget. The grant also provides a travel allowance for the researcher to attend conferences and research meetings.

Spurgeon initially came to Lambert’s lab as a postdoc in 2010, and joined the McArdle staff as an Assistant Scientist in 2014. The R50 grant mechanism came to fruition during her second year as a McArdle staff scientist, and Lambert encouraged her to apply during the grant’s first round of applications.

“I had heard that a grant for staff scientists was in the pipeline, so it was kind of serendipitous that I was a staff scientist in a position to apply by the time that the R50 funding mechanism was introduced,” Spurgeon said. “I’m personally honored that my grant application was funded, but I also hope that this grant mechanism helps pave the way for other funding opportunities for staff scientists.”

The R50 award was created in part to address the current climate in biomedical research, where a large number of successful postdocs are competing for a very limited number of tenure-track faculty positions. As support from scientists and core facility specialists becomes increasingly important at research institutions, the R50 seeks to help make staff scientist positions more attractive to exceptional researchers like Dr. Spurgeon.

“It is very fitting for Dr. Spurgeon to be awarded the first NIH R50 award here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,” writes Dr. Lambert. “She has contributed greatly to the University’s discussion on the future of biomedical research over the past two years, and is now participating on a campus-wide committee on how the University can provide scientists like her the career security to pursue their life ambition here on campus.”

With this award, Spurgeon looks forward to continuing her research within Lambert’s lab at McArdle on DNA tumor viruses, including human papillomavirus (HPV) and Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV). On the heels of her recent paper publication in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, she is especially excited about further exploring the pathways by which HPV and the female hormone estrogen affect cell signaling between the epithelium and the microenvironment in HPV-associated cervical cancer.

“I think this new analysis gave us insight into some potential players,” Spurgeon said. “We have been chasing after this elusive signaling factor for a long time so now we at least have a sense of where to focus our efforts.”

Read more about Spurgeon and the Lambert lab’s recent publication here.