Van Andel Institute postdoctoral fellow Dr. McLane Watson awarded prestigious Damon Runyon Fellowship

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Jan. 26, 2023) — Van Andel Institute postdoctoral fellow McLane Watson, Ph.D., has been named a Damon Runyon Fellow by the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, an honor that places him among the most promising early career scientists in the nation.

The four-year, $252,000 fellowship will support Watson as he investigates new ways to supercharge cancer immunotherapies by identifying how metabolism fuels immune cells. He is one of only 14 awardees in this year’s class of Damon Runyon Fellows.

“My project aims to understand how the metabolism of immune cells shapes their function in hopes of improving T cells used in adoptive cell therapies for cancer,” Watson said. “I am grateful to Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation for this opportunity, which grants me access to a community of world-renowned scientists and enables me to perform bold, leading-edge cancer research.”

Harnessing the body’s built-in immune defenses is one of the most promising frontiers in cancer treatment. However, immunotherapies only work in a subset of people. Watson’s project aims to make these life-saving treatments more effective in a wider range of people by pinpointing metabolic ways to enhance cancer-killing immune cells.

“Dr. Watson is investigating how metabolism can fine-tune our immune system to better treat cancer. His work has great promise for bringing together precision medicine and nutrition to help people fighting this difficult disease,” said Russell Jones, Ph.D., chair of VAI’s Department of Metabolism and Nutritional Programming, and Watson’s mentor. “Support from the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation provides Dr. Watson with both funding and a great network of mentors to help guide his path as an early career scientist.”

Originally from Louisville, Colo. Watson received his bachelor’s in biology with a minor in music from Hope College in Holland, Mich. He worked as an undergraduate intern and research technician at VAI before earning his Ph.D. in immunology from University of Pittsburgh. Watson joined the Russell Jones Lab in January 2022 as a postdoctoral fellow. Soon after, he was selected for the Institute’s competitive Cancer Epigenetics Training Program, which provides specialized support and postdoctoral training in epigenetics.

The Cancer Epigenetics Training program is supported by a National Cancer Institute T32 training grant (no. T32CA251066). The content is solely the responsibility of VAI and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.


Van Andel Institute (VAI) is committed to improving the health and enhancing the lives of current and future generations through cutting edge biomedical research and innovative educational offerings. Established in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1996 by the Van Andel family, VAI is now home to more than 500 scientists, educators and support staff, who work with a growing number of national and international collaborators to foster discovery. The Institute’s scientists study the origins of cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases and translate their findings into breakthrough prevention and treatment strategies. Our educators develop inquiry-based approaches for K-12 education to help students and teachers prepare the next generation of problem-solvers, while our Graduate School offers a rigorous, research-intensive Ph.D. program in molecular and cellular biology.