Meet The Researchers

The Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation is proud that 40% of our annual budget is directed toward funding cancer research at the world-renowned Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. This research focuses on understanding the molecular processes that give rise to cancers and to leverage technologies in order to improve cancer diagnosis, identify better drug targets, and advance cancer therapies.


Bruce Stillman, PHD

Bruce Stillman, PhD, president of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) and Director of the National Cancer Institute-designated CSHL Cancer Center, has been a cancer researcher at CSHL for 30 years. A native of Australia, Stillman received his PhD from the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University. He came to CSHL as a Postdoctoral Fellow in 1979.

Stillman’s research focuses on how DNA is copied within cells before they divide in two. His laboratory is studying the mechanism that initiates the entire process of DNA replication. Errors in DNA replication and in the intricate, multistep process by which cells duplicate themselves occur in cancers.

Stillman has received many awards, including the Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. Prize from the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation in 2004, the American Cancer Society Basic Science Award from the Society of Surgical Oncology in 2006 and the Curtin Medal from the Australian National University in 2007.

In 1994, Stillman succeeded Nobel Laureate James D. Watson as Director of CSHL and was appointed President in 2003. Under Stillman’s leadership, CSHL has grown to more than 1,000 employees. Stillman is committed to keeping CSHL’s work on cancer and neurodevelopmental disorders at the cutting edge. Discoveries in basic science, he strongly believes, are the key to making significant diagnostic and therapeutic advances.


Mona Spector, PHD

Mona Spector, PhD, a researcher in the Tita Monti Cancer Research Laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), brings a special perspective to cancer research – that of a survivor. Six years ago, Spector was diagnosed with breast cancer. The experience has left her with a renewed sense of purpose.

Spector earned her doctorate studying cell-division control at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. At CSHL, she first studied programmed cell death – another process that cancer disrupts – before moving into her current cancer research. Spector is digging into the genetic changes that are abundant in cancer. She takes advantage of primary human clinical samples processed by a research nurse at North Shore University Hospital, who is funded through The Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation. The nurse annotates the tissue type and the details of the cancer, but obscures any personal information about the patients, who have consented to this research use of their tissue.

In the future, she will be exploiting powerful next-generation sequencing technology to look for changes in the DNA sequence of cancer cells. Genes that are frequently mutated as cancer advances might make good “targets” for therapy.

Dr. Nick Tonks

CSHL Research Enters Clinical Trial for Breast Cancer Therapy

Thanks to the Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation for over 10 years of funding that has propelled Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) cancer research to clinical application in both leukemia and breast cancer. Today, the Laboratory’s strategic affiliation with Northwell Health further allies us with the Monti/Saladino family, which has long supported cancer patients at Northwell facilities.

One of the earliest and perhaps most exciting accomplishments of the new CSHL-Northwell Health affiliation was the April 2016 start of a clinical trial to test a new therapy for HER-2 positive breast cancer that was developed from CSHL research. The Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation has provided funding for the research supporting this potential breakthrough therapeutic.

CSHL Professor Nick Tonks is an expert on the inner workings of a family of enzymes called protein tyrosine phosphatases (PTPs) that play a role in breast cancer development. CSHL researchers found that by regulating the activity of certain PTP enzymes, they could control HER-2 positive breast cancer tumor metastasis. Based on this research, Dr. Tonks’ team was able to develop a therapeutic approach to counter this particular tumor growth. And, just last year, CSHL, Northwell and a start-up company here on Long Island called DepYMed brought the CSHL developed therapeutic approach to a clinical trial.


The Phase 1 clinical trial is a “Study of the Safety and Tolerability of Single Agent MSI-1436c in Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients.” The agent is also known as Trodusquemine and has been described as a potential breakthrough in the fight against HER2-positive breast cancers, which tend to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer and less likely to be sensitive to hormone therapy.  We look forward to the progress of the trial.

Dr. Tonks continues to explore the potential for PTP enzymes and the approach he developed for breast cancer to be applied to other cancers and diseases such as diabetes and obesity. “I’ve been trying to do this kind of thing since the mid- 1990s,” Tonks says. “And now, for the first time, we have the possibility of getting an inhibitor of that enzyme I purified 25 years ago to treat major human disease. The idea that one’s research can lead to treatments for real patients – well, there is no other way to put it. It’s just a huge motivating factor.”