CPRIT awards research and recruitment grants to improve cancer research

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) has awarded UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers more than $7.5 million in research grants to improve diagnostic and therapeutic services and research relating to cancers of the brain, breast, throat, and bone, as well as to improve scientific understanding of cancer biology.

UT Southwestern received an additional $4 million for recruiting emerging cancer scientists. The February awards bring the total awarded by CPRIT to UT Southwestern for cancer research, recruitments, and prevention efforts to $34 million in fiscal year 2015, more than any other Texas institution.

New research grants were awarded to seven UT Southwestern researchers at the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center as part of CPRIT's Individual Investigator Research Awards.

"The projects by these researchers underscore the vitality of the collaborative effort we value and encourage at the Simmons Cancer Center, and the diversity of approaches that are needed to expand opportunities for those facing a cancer diagnosis," said Dr. James Willson, Associate Dean of Oncology Programs at UT Southwestern, and Professor and Director of the Simmons Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in North Texas and one of just 68 in the country. Dr. Willson holds The Lisa K. Simmons Distinguished Chair in Comprehensive Oncology.

Among the Awards

Dr. Luis Parada, Chairman of Developmental Biology, Director of the Kent Waldrep Foundation Center for Basic Neuroscience Research, and holder of the Diana K. and Richard C. Strauss Distinguished Chair in Developmental Biology and the Southwestern Ball Distinguished Chair in Nerve Regeneration Research, was awarded $900,000 to study a small chemical compound that stops stem cell growth in gliomas (brain cancer). His lab has been instrumental in identifying molecules that inhibit nerve regeneration after injury.

Dr. Craig Malloy, Professor with the Advanced Imaging Research Center, Internal Medicine, and Radiology, who holds the Richard A. Lange, M.D. Chair in Cardiology, was awarded $897,311 in partnership with Texas A&M University to develop new technologies to study metabolism in breast cancer. This collaboration leverages the strengths in human metabolism at UT Southwestern, electrical engineering expertise at Texas A&M, and the distinctive 7 Tesla magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) device at the Bill and Rita Clements Advanced Medical Imaging Building at UT Southwestern. MR images at 7T allow investigators to observe small anatomical structures and to monitor tissue biochemistry without biopsies or radiation.

Dr. Zhijian Chen, Professor of Molecular Biology and with the Center for the Genetics of Host Defense, who holds the George L. MacGregor Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Science, was awarded $889,185 to study how to improve cancer immunotherapy through a pathway called the Cytosolic DNA Sensing Pathway. The pathway induces type-I interferons, which are important for activating cytotoxic T cells to kill tumors.

Dr. Steve Jiang, Professor and Vice Chairman of Radiation Oncology, Chief of the Division of Medical Physics and Engineering, and holder of the Barbara Crittenden Professorship in Cancer Research, was awarded $858,356 to study how to take online adaptive radiotherapy technologies developed in the lab into clinical practice. Online adaptive radiotherapy allows real-time adjustments to provide individualized cancer radiotherapy that can help reduce unwanted exposure to healthy tissues.

Dr. Yuh Min Chook, Professor of Pharmacology and Biophysics, the Eugene McDermott Scholar in Medical Research, and recipient of the 2015 Edith and Peter O'Donnell Award in Science, was awarded $900,000 to study mechanisms of the fundamental process of protein transport into and out of the cell's nucleus.

Dr. Paul Medin, Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology, was awarded $897,779 to study the impact of single-session stereotactic ablative radiotherapy, used to treat cancer, on peripheral nerves. Stereotactic ablative radiotherapy is a technique to precisely deliver an entire course of radiation treatment in a few outpatient sessions.

Dr. David Schwartz, Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology, was awarded $860,540 to launch a Phase I clinical trial of Stereotactic HYpofractionateD RadioAblative (HYDRA) treatment. This is a first-of-its-kind study of limited-field stereotactic radiation treatment of advanced larynx cancer that reduces the length of treatment from seven weeks to less than two weeks.  The study also will involve the review of a novel adaptive planning platform developed at UT Southwestern to ensure patient safety.

In addition, UT Southwestern researchers received a $1,290,442 grant as part of CPRIT's Individual Investigator Research Awards (IIRA) for Cancer in Children and Adolescents, part of new annual priorities for awards that focus specifically on childhood and adolescent cancer. That project, led by Dr. Patrick Leavey, Professor of Pediatrics, Associate Medical Director for Clinical Affairs for the Pauline Allen Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children's Health Dallas and the Director of the Musculoskeletal Tumors Program at Children's Health Dallas, is examining how to use recent technological and computational advances in medical imaging to develop more robust prognostic biomarkers for children and adolescents with osteosarcoma.

The research and recruitment grants awarded to UT Southwestern are among 54 grants totaling $62.9 million CPRIT awarded as part of its academic research program to support innovative research projects that will significantly advance knowledge of the causes, prevention, early detection, and/or treatment of cancer. The awards were announced Feb. 18 after a rigorous review process, recommendations from their respective program review councils, and approval by the Oversight Committee to support the recruitment of cancer scientists and clinicians to academic institutions in Texas.

Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center

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