Markey Women Strong Collective Honors O’Connor, Plattner with Distinguished Researcher Awards

On Wednesday, May 17 members of the newly-formed Markey Women Strong philanthropy group awarded two inaugural Distinguished Researcher awards to Drs. Kathleen O’Connor and Rina Plattner during the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center Research Day.

The awards, each of which comes with a $50,000 research grant, were handed out by Markey Cancer Foundation board member Lois Reynolds, who has been championing the Markey Women Strong effort since its inception late last year.

As part of the Markey Women Strong collective, each member contributes $1,000 annually, which is pooled and awarded in the form of research grants. Members are then presented with various research projects being carried out by female researchers at the Markey Cancer Center and vote on which project(s) they want to put their grant money toward as a group. At key times throughout the year, members will reconvene to learn from the award recipients how their funds are being utilized in the fight against cancer.

Dr. Kathleen O’Connor, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Molecular & Cellular Biochemistry at the University of Kentucky’s College of Medicine and is the Associate Director of Cancer Education at the UK Marky Cancer Center. With a research focus on Triple-Negative Breast Cancer, O’Connor’s lab is currently exploring how integrins and integrin-mediated signaling contribute to the late stages of carcinoma progression where cells acquire the ability to invade surrounding tissues.

Dr. Rina Plattner, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Kentucky. Dr. Plattner’s current research is focused on melanoma metastasis and therapeutic resistance. The Plattner laboratory, which identified the Abl family of non-receptor tyrosine kinases (c-Abl, Arg) as novel drug targets for breast cancer and melanoma, was the first to demonstrate that, in addition to leukemia, Abl kinases also play a critical role in solid tumors, such as melanoma and breast cancer, indicating that drugs targeting these kinases may also be effective in treating these diseases.

Started in the summer of 2016, Markey Women Strong is a philanthropy group comprised of women (or donations made in their honor) who together, will make a meaningful difference in cancer research by funding female researchers focused on groundbreaking cancer research at the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center.

For more information on Markey Women Strong, including how to become a member, go to

University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Foundation

The University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Foundation has been recognized as a forerunner in championing cancer research in Kentucky through direct support of the Markey Cancer Center. After contributing significantly to achieve the goal of earning the National Cancer Institute designation of the Markey Cancer Center in July, 2013, the Foundation’s support has expanded to fund innovative research, early detection and prevention initiatives. It is also fully committed to supporting the Center’s bid for comprehensive cancer center designation by the NCI in 2017. The Foundation works with researchers across a broad spectrum of cancer research fields to find and fund the best research and create better outcomes for patient treatments and care.

UK Markey