CPRIT awards $18.5 million to UT Southwestern investigators for cancer studies

DALLAS – Feb. 1, 2010 – The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) has awarded more than $18.5 million to investigators at UT Southwestern Medical Center to support cancer-related projects and to recruit a pre-eminent cancer investigator.

As a result of the many excellent proposals submitted by its faculty, which were evaluated through a rigorous peer-review process, UT Southwestern received the most funding of any selected Texas institution as part of CPRIT’s first round of grants for cancer research projects at academic institutions and private companies. The $61 million in funding announced Jan. 20 represents the inaugural grants of the $3 billion to be invested in cancer research in Texas over the next 10 years. CPRIT was established in 2007 after Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment that authorized the state to fund cancer research and prevention programs.

UT Southwestern’s total funding includes nearly $16.5 million to support 18 research projects, including two high impact/high risk projects; $2 million to recruit the first CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research to the medical center; and $67,000 for three planning grants.

“From investigating the root causes of cancer, to developing novel ways of detecting the disease, to testing promising new therapies, UT Southwestern researchers are at the forefront of basic discovery and translation of laboratory findings to clinical practice,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, president of UT Southwestern. “These grants recognize the leading role that scientists at this medical center play in driving advances in cancer care.”

Dr. James Willson, director of the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UT Southwestern, said, “The CPRIT awards to 17 of our cancer investigators will provide funding needed to explore new ideas and to launch innovative research. Particularly exciting is the breadth and the number of these awards to UT Southwestern researchers and the opportunity that this support provides to accelerate our quest to improve cancer prevention and treatment.”

The breakdown of the grants to UT Southwestern is:

  • $2 million, awarded in December, to recruit Dr. Ralf Kittler as the first CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research. Dr. Kittler, who will become assistant professor in the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development on Feb. 1,  focuses his research on discovering diagnostic and therapeutic targets that can be used for the detection, staging and treatment of cancer, especially prostate cancer. 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.
  • Almost $400,000 to two faculty members in high impact/high risk grants, designated for short-term projects that are developmental or exploratory in nature. They are: Dr. Ralph DeBerardinis, assistant professor of pediatrics – Can glioblastoma growth be suppressed by targeting glutamine metabolism? $200,000; and Dr. Joseph Ready, associate professor of biochemistry – Understanding the activity of a potent anticancer agent, $198,947.
  • $67,000 to three faculty members in small planning grants to support coordination of projects involving multiple investigators. They are: Dr. David Chen, professor of radiation oncology – DNA double-strand break repair and genome stability, $25,000; Dr. Jerry Shay, professor of cell biology – Apply genomics and HTP techs to prevent/treat colon cancer, $17,000; and Dr. Dean Sherry, director of the Advanced Imaging Research Center – Center for probe development and commercialization, $25,000.

Eight faculty members each received individual research grants of more than $1 million:

  • Dr. Paul Blount, associate professor of physiology – Imaging cancerous tissues with liposomal MRI contrast agents that utilize bioengineered nanovalves, $1,144,531.
  • Dr. Kevin Gardner, professor of biochemistry and pharmacology – Discovery and optimization of natural and artificial ligands regulating Hypoxia Inducible Factor, $1,555,050.
  • Dr. Jin Jiang, professor of developmental biology and pharmacology – Dissecting the Hippo tumor suppressor pathway in organ size control and stem cell proliferation, $1,130,245.
  • Dr. Lawrence Lum, assistant professor of cell biology – A molecularly targeted anticancer therapeutic strategy premised upon attack of aberrant Wnt pathway responses, $1,241,746.
  • Dr. Craig Malloy, medical director of the Advanced Imaging Research Center and professor of internal medicine and radiology – Texas A&M-UT Southwestern partnership for cancer imaging and spectroscopy at 7 Tesla, $1,173,255.
  • Dr. Luis Parada, chairman of developmental biology – Genetic mouse models of glioma: translational tools for therapeutic development, $1,077,679.
  • Dr. Lani Wu, associate professor of pharmacology – Relating drug resistance and tumor microenvironment to cancer cell heterogeneity, $1,238,551.
  • Dr. Chengcheng Zhang, assistant professor of physiology and developmental biology – The role of IGFBP2 in acute myeloid leukemia, $1,221,879.

The remaining eight research grants are:

  • Dr. Sandeep Burma, assistant professor of radiation oncology – Impact of GBM-specific oncogenic events on DNA repair pathways: implications for therapy, $857,106.
  • Dr. Diego Castrillon, assistant professor of pathology – Model systems and translational studies of cervical cancer progression, $813,817.
  • Dr. Elizabeth Goldsmith, professor of biochemistry – Mapping inhibitor interactions and conformational space of the MAP3K TAO2, a new protein kinase cancer drug target, $682,622.
  • Dr. Jenny Hsieh, assistant professor of molecular biology and in the Cecil H. and Ida Green Center for Reproductive Biology Sciences – Small-molecule differentiation agent to target glioma stem cells, $587,042.
  • Dr. Wen-Hong Li, associate professor of cell biology and biochemistry – Photonic probes for functional analysis of microRNAs and mRNAs in living cells, $755,754.
  • Dr. Ready – Evaluating the therapeutic potential of a potent anti-cancer agent, $737,315.
  • Dr. Yihong Wan, assistant professor of pharmacology – Osteoclast regulation of bone metastasis of cancer, $947,367.


    Media Contact: Connie Piloto

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