Newswise — DALLAS – August 28, 2014 – UT Southwestern Medical Center faculty have received 19 grants totaling more than $26 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) to expand cancer screenings, investigate the effectiveness and viability for cancer therapies and radiation treatments, conduct research into cancer biology, and recruitment.

Specifically, CPRIT funding awarded to UT Southwestern’s faculty includes:

  • $10.1 million total for 12 Individual Investigator Research Awards involving treatments and strategies targeting lung, breast, prostate, and head and neck cancers, as well as basic science research into cancer biology;
  • $8 million for recruitment of faculty from Brandeis University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California, San Francisco;
  • $6 million in Product Development Grants for OncoNano Medicine, LLC to commercialize technology invented by UT Southwestern faculty members for oncology surgery;
  • $1.5 million in Competitive Expansion Grants to expand a unique telemedicine program to provide genetic cancer screenings for underserved and rural areas; and
  • $400,000 in High-Impact/High-Risk Research Awards involving cellular pathways that could help disrupt the spread of cancer cells.

 “We are extremely appreciative and gratified to receive this additional support from CPRIT and the people of Texas. The grants will provide funding for the critical cancer research carried out by the talented faculty of UT Southwestern who are pursuing many innovative approaches to ultimately improve treatment and prevention of the scourge of cancer,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern, Professor of Internal Medicine, and holder of the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery Jr., M.D., Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.

The 19 grants awarded UT Southwestern are among 101 grants totaling more than $107 million that CPRIT awarded through its merit-based, peer review process to identify a wide range of high-quality, innovative projects. More than 600 grant proposals were submitted.

“The broad research that will result thanks to these grants represents a significant contribution in our ongoing understanding of cancer, its causes, and how best to treat and eventually eliminate it,” said Dr. James Willson, Dean of Oncology Programs, Professor and Director of the Harold C. Simmons Cancer Center, Professor of Internal Medicine, and holder of The Lisa K. Simmons Distinguished Chair in Comprehensive Oncology. “It is encouraging that CPRIT targets its support for the most promising research leads, and UT Southwestern faculty members have been highly successful in competing for these funds.”

The prevention grant to Dr. Keith Argenbright, Director of the Moncrief Cancer Institute, and Associate Professor in the Simmons Cancer Center and Department of Clinical Science, allows expansion of an existing telemedicine genetic screening program in underserved populations and rural areas. The genetic screenings are for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, and Lynch syndrome — two of the most commonly inherited cancer predisposition syndromes. The Cancer Genetic Services for Rural and Underserved Populations in Texas is a partnership between the Genetics Department at the Harold C. Simmons Cancer Center, the Moncrief Cancer Institute in Fort Worth, Parkland Memorial Hospital, and JPS Health Network.

A Product Development Grant was awarded to Dr. Baran Sumer, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, and Dr. Jinming Gao, Professor in the Simmons Cancer Center and Department of Pharmacology, who together are co-founders of OncoNano Medicine. OncoNano is a Dallas-based biotechnology company and UT Southwestern spinoff that aims to develop nanotechnology-enabled fluorescent probes to help cancer surgeons visualize tumors during surgery, allowing them to excise tumors precisely and completely.

The High-Impact/High-Risk Research Awards include an investigation by Dr. Qing Zhong, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Biochemistry, who is studying the necrosis process of cellular breakdown to slow or stop tumor growth and the spread of cancer cells. Dr. Kim Orth, Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, received an award to explore using AMPylation machinery, as a target to interrupt the proliferation of cancer cells. AMPylation is a process involving a molecule called ATP, which provides energy to cells and which can be used to alter other molecules. Dr. Orth is the W.W. Caruth, Jr. Scholar in Biomedical Research who holds the Earl A. Forsythe Chair in Biomedical Science.

UT Southwestern received 12 Individual Investigator Research Awards for innovative research projects addressing critically important questions that will significantly advance knowledge of the causes, prevention, and/or treatment of cancer. UT Southwestern faculty receiving awards include:

  • Dr. Cheng-Ming Chiang, Professor in the Simmons Cancer Center, and of Biochemistry and Pharmacology, to target BRD4 in breast cancer;
  • Dr. Melanie Cobb, Professor of Pharmacology who holds the Jane and Bill Browning Jr. Chair in Medical Science, to study targeted transcription factors for Small Cell Lung Cancer;
  • Dr. Jinming Gao, Professor in the Simmons Cancer Center and of Pharmacology, to study tumor contrast in surgical resection of head and neck cancers;
  • Dr. Ralph Mason, Professor of Radiology, to determine whether prostate tumor hypoxia can serve as a predictor for response to radiation therapy;
  • Dr. John MacMillan, Associate Professor of Biochemistry and the Chilton/Bell Scholar in Biochemistry, to study a natural product for treatment of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer;
  • Dr. Elizabeth Sally Ward Ober, Professor of Immunology who holds the Paul and Betty Meek-FINA Professorship in Molecular Immunology, to target the HER2 protein for breast cancer therapy;
  • Dr. Pier Paolo Scaglioni, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine, to explore beta-oxidation as a therapeutic target in lung cancers;
  • Dr. Philipp Scherer, Professor of Internal Medicine and Cell Biology, who holds the Gifford O. Touchstone, Jr. and Randolph G. Touchstone Distinguished Chair in Diabetes Research, to study the role of obesity in growth and resistance of cancer;
  • Dr. Benjamin Tu, Associate Professor of Biochemistry and W.W. Caruth, Jr. Scholar in Biomedical Research, to evaluate a tumor suppressor candidate called NPRL2 (nitrogen permease regulator-like 2);
  • Dr. Kenneth Westover, Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology and Biochemistry, to study a kinase inhibitor for cancer therapy;
  • Dr. Chengcheng Zhang, Associate Professor of Physiology and Developmental Biology, and the Michael L. Rosenberg Scholar in Medical Research, to study targets for Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) treatments; and
  • Dr. Xuewu Zhang, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and Biophysics and the Virginia Murchison Linthicum Scholar in Medical Research, to study tankyrase and its role in tumor formation.

Texas voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in 2007 establishing the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and authorizing the state to issue $3 billion in bonds to fund groundbreaking cancer research and prevention programs and services in Texas. CPRIT’s goal is to expedite innovation and commercialization in the area of cancer research and to enhance access to evidence-based prevention programs and services throughout the state. Prior to these awards, UT Southwestern faculty had received about $205 million through CPRIT grants.

UT Southwestern’s Harold C. Simmons Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in North Texas and one of just 66 in the country, includes 13 major cancer care programs with a focus on treating the whole patient with innovative treatments, while fostering groundbreaking basic research that has the potential to improve patient care and prevention of cancer worldwide. The Center’s education and training programs support and develop the next generation of cancer researchers and clinicians.

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 includes many distinguished members, including six who have been awarded Nobel Prizes since 1985. Numbering more than 2,700, the faculty is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide medical care in 40 specialties to nearly 91,000 hospitalized patients and oversee more than 2 million outpatient visits a year.