Grants to Roswell Park Researchers in 3rd Quarter Total More than $7 Million

Two researchers receive individual grants of more than $2 million each to study how cancer develops
Monday, October 19, 2015

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) received more than $7.2 million in grant awards for important research projects during the third quarter of 2015. Two faculty members were awarded more than $2 million each for their respective investigations into the origins of the disease and cancer cell genesis.

Katerina Gurova, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Oncology in the Department of Cell Stress Biology, received two awards from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) that focus on tumor-initiating cells, or cancer stem cells. These types of tumor cells are to blame for cancer’s seemingly endless ability to produce new tumor cells, resulting in relapse after treatment and in metastatic disease. One grant is a five-year, $2.01 million award to explore how curaxins, a novel class of anticancer agents, kill cancer stem cells while not harming normal stem cells. Curaxins target a type of biochemical factor unexplored in cancer research, the histone chaperone FACT (facilitates chromatin transcription). This project aims to help define which patients would benefit most from curaxin therapy and how to assess its effects early in treatment.

Dr. Gurova’s other grant, a two-year, $419,884 award, funds research that seeks a better understanding of the role of FACT in development of cancer. Using genetic tools to turn FACT on and off, she and her colleagues hope to determine whether targeting FACT can also eradicate cancer without harming normal stem cells.

Another multimillion-dollar grant was awarded to Mikhail Nikiforov, PhD, Professor of Oncology in the Department of Cell Stress Biology, who received a five-year, $2.02 million award from the NCI for his investigation into the role of a recently discovered transcriptional factor, Kruppel-like factor 9 (KLF9), in melanoma genesis. KLF9 is a protein that induces oxidative stress. This project will explore how it’s involved in melanoma progression, and aims to identify new targets for treating metastatic melanoma, one of the most aggressive and poorly understood human cancers.

Other Roswell Park researchers awarded grant funding during this quarter are:

John Krolewski, MD, PhD, Professor of Oncology in the Center for Personalized Medicine and the Department of Cancer Genetics, who received a two-year, $667,992 award from the NCI to investigate the effects of androgen-deprivation therapy (ADT), a common approach for treating prostate cancer. In particular, this study will examine the role of molecules that mediate the effect of ADT and act between cancer cells and the surrounding cells, known as the tumor microenvironment. Dr. Krolewski hopes that identifying the molecules involved can lead to the development of novel prostate cancer therapies.

Dominic Smiraglia, PhD, Associate Professor of Oncology in the Department of Cancer Genetics, received a three-year, $639,476 award from the U.S. Department of Defense for research that targets the methionine salvage pathway as a metabolic point of leverage, a potential Achilles heel for prostate cancer based on inherent and unique metabolic stress that can be exploited. Dr. Smiraglia and colleagues will test a novel therapeutic approach for increasing the metabolic stress in prostate cancer cells while concurrently blocking the mechanism that they use to relieve that stress. This work may lead to new treatment strategies to complement existing approaches.

Deborah Erwin, PhD, Director of the Office of Cancer Health Disparities Research, received a three-year, $354,262 supplemental grant from the NCI to expand NCI-Supported Community Outreach Capacity Through Community Health Educators of the National Outreach Network.

Kunle Odunsi, MD, PhD, FRCOG, FACOG, Cancer Center Deputy Director, Chair of the Department of Gynecologic Oncology and Executive Director of the Center for Immunotherapy at Roswell Park, received a three-year, $200,274 supplemental grant from the NCI that supports doctoral student Adaobi Amodi’s research efforts supporting the Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in Ovarian Cancer, a project to investigate immune-based approaches to treating ovarian cancer.

Jianmin Zhang, PhD, Assistant Member in the Department of Cancer Genetics, received a one-year, $195,441 supplemental grant from the NCI to support his work in establishing preclinical models that characterize cancer in African-Americans with breast cancer and will be used in predicting clinical outcomes, drug evaluation, biomarker identification, biologic studies and personalized-medicine strategies.

Song Yao, PhD, Associate Member in the Department of Cancer Control and Prevention, received a two-year, $175,000 award from the NCI. This project will involve exome array analysis to better understand genetic factors determining the onset of menarche and menopause in a large population of African-American women, which may help to elucidate their roles in relation to breast cancer occurrence.

Lauren Burkard-Mandel, a predoctoral trainee in the Department of Immunology, received a four-year, $138,448 fellowship award from the NCI for a study of a population of immune cells, known as macrophages, that adopt pro-metastatic functions. Her project explores a novel role of a cancer-derived substance known as thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP) in the mechanisms that underlie such aberrant macrophage behavior. Identification of this “cancer-TSLP-macrophage axis” may offer new opportunities to treat patients with breast cancer.

Beth Pflug, PhD, Associate Member of the Department of Urology, received a one-year, $125,346 award from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRAA) within the Department of Defense to explore the mechanism by which benzodiazepines block an enzyme that’s associated with prostate cancer aggressiveness and progression. Her project seeks to understand how benzodiazepines inhibit the fatty-acid synthase (FASN) pathway, inducing tumor cell death, and to develop an FASN inhibitor for therapeutic use.

Michael Fiandalo, PhD, a postdoctoral Research Affiliate in the Department of Urology, received a two-year, $123,642 award from USAMRAA to investigate a way to enhance existing androgen-deprivation therapy for men with advanced prostate cancer. He aims first to develop a high-throughput androgen-metabolism-inhibitor screen, and then to develop an inhibitor that works against four enzymes, to improve tumor regression and extend survival.

James Mohler, MD, Chair of the Department of Urology and Associate Director/Senior Vice President for Translational Research, received a one-year, $112,746 subcontract award from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center as part of a grant from the NCI to study whether intensive cholesterol-lowering intervention will reduce the levels of cholesterol and testosterone in the prostate and, secondarily, decrease the growth rate of prostate cancer. The work could lead to a large clinical trial of cholesterol-lowering drugs to decrease the chance that men who choose active surveillance for low-risk prostate cancer will ever need treatment.

Rodney Haring, PhD, MSW, Assistant Professor of Oncology in the Department of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences, received a two-year grant of $78,306 from the Aetna Foundation. His project, founded on the first large-scale obesity intervention study in Native American youth, will seek to determine how best to translate and disseminate intervention initiatives across the country to populations at high risk for obesity, diabetes, cancer and other health disparities.

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The mission of Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI) is to understand, prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1898, RPCI is one of the first cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and remains the only facility with this designation in Upstate New York. The Institute is a member of the prestigious National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of the nation’s leading cancer centers; maintains affiliate sites; and is a partner in national and international collaborative programs. For more information, visit www.roswellpark.org, call 1-877-ASK-RPCI (1-877-275-7724) or email askrpci@roswellpark.org. Follow Roswell Park on Facebook and Twitter.

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