$37 million CPRIT support includes funds for pediatric cancer database

DALLAS – Sept. 11, 2018 – The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) has awarded more than $37 million to UT Southwestern for cancer research and prevention, including more than $5 million to create a platform for collecting pediatric cancer data across multiple institutions. Because childhood cancers are rare, multi-institution research studies are necessary and UT Southwestern will lead in this pooling effort.

The award also includes $12 million for recruiting four cancer investigators to UT Southwestern Medical Center.

“These much-appreciated awards from CPRIT, which are funded by the citizens of Texas, will help UT Southwestern’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Center further our understanding of how cancer occurs as well as develop new methods for treatment of cancer that are both more effective and less toxic. We are also pleased to be able to expand prevention programs for liver cancer and breast cancer in key populations,” said Dr. Carlos L. Arteaga, Associate Dean of Oncology Programs and Director of the Simmons Cancer Center. Dr. Arteaga holds the Lisa K. Simmons Distinguished Chair in Comprehensive Oncology.

Dr. Yang Xie will develop a database of pediatric cancers throughout Texas.

The CPRIT grant includes an award to Dr. Yang Xie, Associate Professor of Clinical Sciences and of Bioinformatics, and Dr. Stephen Skapek, Chief of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, to develop a pediatric cancer data base and support system.

“The most effective research includes clinical, genomic, and imaging data from historical and prospective trials across multiple institutions, however inconsistent terminology and other issues often hamper researchers’ efforts to combine data. Our goal is to break down these academic silos and create a broad database that will benefit all,” said Dr. Xie.

The Pediatric Cancer Data Core will develop a system and computational tools for collecting and integrating data from clinical trials, electronic health records, molecular and imaging studies, and tissue banks. The system will become a resource for all Texas childhood cancer programs.

Other funding in the CPRIT grant includes: 

Multi-investigator research awards:

  • $5,998,327 to members of the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern including CRI’s Director, Dr. Sean Morrison, a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator; Dr. Ralph DeBerardinis, Professor with the CRI and a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator; and Dr. Prashant Mishra, Assistant Professor with the CRI. The funds will be used to study the regulation of metabolism in metastatic melanoma. Cancer that has metastasized, or spread beyond the site of its original appearance, is far more likely to be fatal, and this work is aimed at uncovering some of the conditions that lead to metastasis, with the ultimate aim of slowing or preventing metastasis. This study extends prior work from the Morrison and DeBerardinis laboratories showing that anti-oxidants benefit cancer cells more than normal cells, and promote the survival of melanoma cells during metastasis. By better understanding the underlying mechanisms, the team hopes to develop pro-oxidant therapies that would block metastasis.

Dr. Morrison holds the Mary McDermott Cook Chair in Pediatric Genetics and the Kathryne and Gene Bishop Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Research at Children’s Research Institute at UT Southwestern. Dr. DeBerardinis holds the Joel B. Steinberg, M.D. Chair in Pediatrics.

  • $6,000,000 to Dr. Yang-Xin Fu, Professor of Pathology, Immunology, and Radiation Oncology, to study how radiation turns on the immune system to fight cancer. The goal of radiation therapy is to kill cancer cells by damaging their DNA, but radiation has also been shown to stimulate the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells. For this reason, therapeutic combinations that pair radiation with immunotherapy, which also uses the immune system to fight cancer, are especially promising. The mechanisms by which radiation stimulates the immune system are poorly understood, and the three research studies funded by this grant will explore these mechanisms, with the goal of designing more effective combinations of radiation and immunotherapy.

Dr. Fu holds the Mary Nell and Ralph B. Rogers Professorship in Immunology.

High impact, high risk awards:

  • $200,000 to Dr. Neal Alto, Professor of Microbiology, to explore mechanisms of drug resistance in lung cancer. The identification of biomarkers that predict drug resistance in patients is a key challenge in cancer treatment. This research will investigate a potential new mechanism of cancer cell-resistance to a promising new class of chemotherapy drugs, called “SMAC mimetics.” The study aims to uncover what drives resistance, as well as to pinpoint biomarkers to predict SMAC-mimetic resistance.

Dr. Alto is a UT Southwestern Presidential Scholar and a Rita C. and William P. Clements, Jr. Scholar in Medical Research.

  • $200,000 to Dr. Nan Yan, Associate Professor of Immunology and Microbiology, to study adverse events associated with cancer immunotherapy. Immunotherapy, which recruits the body’s immune system to fight cancer, is one of the most exciting medical advances in recent years. But immunotherapy also has the potential to lead to autoimmune disease in some patients. This study will use autoimmune-prone mice to develop ways to predict adverse reactions to immunotherapy.

Dr. Yan is a Rita C. and William P. Clements, Jr. Scholar in Medical Research. 

  • $200,000 to Dr. Jian Xu, Assistant Professor with the CRI and of Pediatrics, will develop new experimental and computational tools to study acute myeloid leukemia. The study will search for structural variations in the human genome, such as insertions or deletions in DNA. These results will help translate findings from cancer genetic studies to mechanism-based therapies for blood cancers.
  • $200,000 to Dr. Zbyszek Otwinowski, Professor of Biophysics and Biochemistry, to study repair of broken DNA. The body has a mechanism for repairing broken DNA, but many cancer patients have defects in DNA repair that result in deletions of short fragments of their DNA. This study hypothesizes that the number of deletions, combined with other features of the deletions themselves, may serve as a biomarker in cancer diagnosis and treatment. The research will develop a method that will use whole genome sequencing data to quantify and classify deletions.

Core facility support awards: 

  • $3,723,260 to Dr. Michael Story, Professor of Radiation Oncology, for a Preclinical Radiation Core Facility. More than 50 percent of cancer patients are treated with radiation therapy. Preclinical radiation research performed using cell or small animal models is important for understanding radiobiological mechanisms and developing new treatments. Not all medical facilities that provide radiation therapy have the technology or staff to participate in pre-clinical studies. The Preclinical Radiation Core Facility at UT Southwestern will bring the most up-to-date technologies to UT Southwestern and will be a source of expertise for other facilities in Texas.

Dr. Story holds the David A. Pistenmaa, M.D., Ph.D. Distinguished Chair in Radiation Oncology.

  • $5,394,842 to Dr. Xie and Dr. Skapek to build a Pediatric Cancer Data Core. Dr. Skapek holds the Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Oncology Research.

Expansion of cancer prevention services to rural and medically underserved population award:

  • $2,592,731 to Dr. Mamta Jain, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, for hepatitis screening. Liver cancer is the fastest-growing cancer in Texas and the majority of these cases are caused by hepatitis C, which is curable. This grant will extend a screening and treatment program among high-risk groups in Dallas County, South Texas, and El Paso.

Evidence-based cancer prevention services award: 

  • $1,349,700 to Dr. Simon Lee, Associate Professor of Clinical Sciences, for breast cancer screening for rural and underinsured women across 35 North Texas counties through the Moncrief Cancer Institute in Fort Worth. This grant will fund at least 1,500 screening mammograms, 750 diagnostic mammograms, and 138 biopsies, while evaluating geographic access to strengthen the network of screening partners in these communities. 

UT Southwestern is recognizing its 75th year in 2018. The Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of 49 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the U.S. and the only one in North Texas, is among just 30 U.S. cancer research centers to be designated by the NCI as a National Clinical Trials Network Lead Academic Participating Site.

CPRIT, which was established in 2007, has the goal of bringing world-class research and cancer-prevention efforts to Texas. With the current allocation, CPRIT has passed the $2 billion milestone in awards and has reached every county in Texas.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 22 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The faculty of more than 2,700 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in about 80 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients, 600,000 emergency room cases, and oversee approximately 2.2 million outpatient visits a year.