The National Institute of General Medical Sciences has awarded LSU Health New Orleans a $10 million grant over five years to support new basic research studies advancing the development new diagnostic and therapeutic approaches for virus-induced cancers.
"Viruses are responsible for approximately 20% of all human cancers," notes Krzysztof Reiss, PhD, Professor and Director of Neurological Cancer Research at LSU Health New Orleans Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center, the grant's principal investigator. "This funding will support four promising junior investigators who will study the molecular details of virus-host interactions while using patient samples, clinical data and biological systems to facilitate clinical translation of their most promising findings."
Virus-related cancers including cervical, anorectal and head and neck cancers associated with Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), Kaposi sarcoma and primary effusion lymphoma associated with Kaposi sarcoma-associated herpes virus, liver cancers associated with Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C viruses, and others are rapidly increasing in our region and disproportionately affect the African-American population. This increase may be explained in part by the large number of HIV+ patients in the region.
"However, our data also show that co-infection with viruses promotes malignant transformation," says Dr. Reiss. "Therefore, understanding why and how particular viruses and viral co-infections promote the development of malignancies in our minority and vulnerable populations is essential to identifying and implementing new prevention, diagnostic and treatment strategies. Training a new cadre of investigators capable of conducting novel research in this field is therefore essential for our state."
The grant is a Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence, or COBRE, grant. The purpose of these grants is to strengthen an institution's biomedical research infrastructure through the establishment of a thematic multi-disciplinary center and to enhance the ability of investigators to compete independently for complementary NIH individual research grants or other external peer-reviewed support. The funding is intended to support investigators from several complementary disciplines. It will enable the institution to develop a critical mass of investigators and enhance their competitiveness in a specific research area and in some cases, will facilitate the development of new disease-specific research centers or augment the capability of existing centers.
"This $10 million competitive award represents a significant recognition of the quality of research here at LSU Health New Orleans," says Dr. Larry Hollier, Chancellor of LSU Health New Orleans. "This type of grant is even more valuable than the monetary award because grants like this provide comprehensive support to the research pipeline. They not only fund basic science research which underlies treatment advances, but they also help develop the next generation of competitively funded faculty research scientists."
The funding will support research projects led by LSU Health New Orleans promising junior investigators Zhiqiang Qin, MD, PhD, and Chris McGowin, PhD, both Assistant Professors of Microbiology, Immunology & Parasitology, and Donna Neumann, PhD, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology, as well as Tulane Assistant Professor of Pathology Zhen Lin, MD, PhD. It will also support two pilot projects - Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells (MDSCs) and HIV Malignancies, and John Cunningham Virus-induced MDSCs in Central Nervous System Tumors.
"In addition to the value of research programs like this in terms of lives saved and improved quality of life, the LSU Health New Orleans research enterprise is a robust economic engine, attracting millions of outside dollars to the city and state that also support jobs in a highly desirable industry," says Dr. Steve Nelson, Dean of LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans' School of Medicine.
"This major award dovetails with the clinical programs in cancer prevention and immunotherapy of our Cancer Center, and will bring cutting-edge research in these important fields to our state,"says Dr. Augusto Ochoa, Director of the Stanley S. Scott Cancer Center at LSU Health New Orleans.