Salk's three collaborative projects win 2022 Curebound Discovery Grant

The Salk Institute's American Cancer Society Professor Tony Hunter, Professor Reuben Shaw, and Assistant Professor Graham McVicker are among 12 inaugural 2022 Discovery Grant winners. The awards, which total $3 million, were launched this year by Curebound, a philanthropic organization dedicated to funding collaborative cancer research that has the potential to reach the clinic.

"These important projects funded by Curebound will allow us to advance our understanding of three aggressive types of cancer-;neuroblastoma, pancreatic cancer, and breast cancer," says Shaw, holder of the William R. Brody Chair and director of Salk's National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center. "These studies will lead to new targets and new therapies that help save lives."

Salk's three collaborative projects include:

Pediatric cancer

Neuroblastoma is a cancer of the nervous system that primarily affects young children and accounts for 15 percent of childhood cancer mortality. Now, McVicker, holder of the Frederick B. Rentschler Developmental Chair, will examine how genetic mutations affect gene expression and regulatory pathways in neuroblastoma tumors. The team also includes Arko Sen, a Salk senior research associate, and Peter Zage, an associate professor-in-residence at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center and a pediatric oncologist at Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego. Their goal is to uncover how cells in the developing nervous system become cancerous, grow, and spread. The findings could lead to the discovery of new biomarkers and therapeutic targets for neuroblastoma.

Novel approaches and new therapeutics

Most patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) die within six months of diagnosis, and there are currently no targeted therapies for this aggressive cancer. Unlike other cancers, PDAC tumors have a thick barrier called a stroma that makes the cells procure nutrients through alternative mechanisms. Now, Shaw and UC San Diego Distinguished Professor Michael Karin will test if an enhanced FDA-approved antibiotic, when combined with an inhibitor of cellular recycling, can cut off tumor energy supplies to halt PDAC tumor growth in human cells.

Prevention and diagnostic tools

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women, and new therapies are desperately needed for the worst form of breast cancer, called triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). Using cutting-edge molecular biology, cell biology, and genetic techniques, Hunter, who holds the Renato Dulbecco Chair, along with UC San Diego Assistant Clinical Professor Kay Yeung and Professor Jing Yang, will investigate if the attachment of a phosphate group (in a process called phosphorylation) to the amino acid histidine in proteins in breast cancer cells is important for TNBC breast cancer metastasis. Their results could help identify new targets for the development of breast cancer therapeutics.

We are proud to support the work of these exceptional scientists with our 2022 Discovery Grants. Investing in collaborative, cross-disciplinary research is a key component of our mission to accelerate cures for cancer in our lifetime."

Anne Marbarger, Curebound CEO

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