Cancer programs secure $13 million in latest CPRIT grants

By Amanda Siegfried / Week of Jan. 1-7, 2011

In its most recent round of grants, announced in late October, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awarded investigators at UT Southwestern more than $13 million to support innovative research and to recruit two early-career cancer scientists.

In the past year, CPRIT provided $34.7 million to support UT Southwestern programs in cancer research, drug development and prevention. Combined with the newest grants,
UT Southwestern has received more than $48 million, more than any other single institution in the state.

The 16 initiatives supported by the most recent grants include 14 projects led by individual investigators. Four of those awards are for high impact/high risk research.

The CPRIT awards, which the agency said are among the first of $216 million it expects to award to Texas institutions and companies in 2011, follow the August announcement that UT Southwestern’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center had attained National Cancer Institute designation, an elite distinction held by only the top-tier cancer centers nationwide. That award came with a $7.5 million, five-year support grant. The NCI also funds additional, ongoing projects at UT Southwestern totaling more than $24 million.

Dr. James Willson, director of the Simmons Cancer Center, said the recent and ongoing grants recognize the leading role that UT Southwestern scientists and physicians play in driving advances in cancer care.

“Continued support from state and federal agencies not only helps to accelerate our quest to improve cancer prevention and treatment, but also reinforces our reputation for excellence in groundbreaking research,” Dr. Willson said.

CPRIT was established in 2007 after Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment that authorized the state to invest $3 billion in cancer research and prevention programs in Texas over 10 years. CPRIT is the second-largest funding source for cancer research in the U.S., second only to the National Cancer Institute.

The most recent grants to UT Southwestern include:

  • $4 million to recruit two CPRIT Scholars in Cancer Research. This CPRIT award is designed to recruit promising early-career investigators to Texas universities or cancer research institutions in the state and provide them with scientific and programmatic support.
  • Individual investigator awards to the following faculty members:

    o   Dr. John Abrams, professor of cell biology, “Deconstructing Oncogenic Activity of p53 Mutations,” $787,496

    o   Dr. James Amatruda, assistant professor of pediatrics, internal medicine and molecular biology, “Identification of Novel Targets for Therapy of Pediatric Germ Cell Tumors,” $930,533

    o   Dr. Robert Bachoo, assistant professor of neurology and internal medicine, “Unraveling the Molecular Mechanisms and Biomechanics of Glioblastoma Invasion,” $941,314

    o   Dr. Zhijian Chen, professor of molecular biology, “Biochemical Mechanisms of NF-kappaB Regulation in Cancer Cells,” $820,097

    o   Dr. Ondine Cleaver, assistant professor of molecular biology, “Lumen Formation During Blood Vessel Angiogenesis,” $600,000

    o   Dr. Melanie Cobb, dean of UT Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, “Dependence of Small Cell Lung Cancer on the Basic Helix-loop-helix Transcription Factors Ascl1 and NeuroD1,” $1,211,342

    o   Dr. Nicholas Conrad, assistant professor of microbiology, “Posttranscriptional Regulation of Noncoding RNAs Involved in Epigenetic Regulation of Gene Expression,” $300,000

    o   Dr. Jennifer Kohler, assistant professor of internal medicine and biochemistry, “Role of ST6GALNAC5’s Sialoside Products in Breast Cancer Metastasis to the Brain,” $519,942

    o   Dr. Weihua Mao, assistant professor of radiation oncology, “Personalized Online Adaptive Radiation Therapy,” $1,163,545

    o   Dr. Elizabeth Ward Ober, professor of immunology and in the Cancer Immunobiology Center, “Targeting HER2 for Cancer Therapy,” $1,209,248
  • High impact/high risk awards to:
  • o   Dr. Amatruda, “A Genetic Approach to Target EWS-FLI1 Oncoprotein in Ewing’s Sarcoma,” $197,565

    o   Dr. Lily Huang, assistant professor of cell biology, “Inhibiting miR-451 as a Novel Treatment Modality for Polycythemia, a Pre-leukemic Disease,” $200,000

    o   Dr. Benjamin Tu, assistant professor of biochemistry, “A Novel Strategy for Attacking Tumors Based on the Identification of a Fundamental Carbon-source Signal Driving Cell Growth,” $200,000

    o   Dr. Wade Winkler, associate professor of biochemistry, “Bacterial Antitermination Elements as Synthetic Tools That Improve Production of Anticancer Compounds,” $200,000.

    Dr. Willson holds the Lisa K. Simmons Distinguished Chair in Comprehensive Oncology.