Roswell Park Attracts Nearly $10 Million in New Research Funding in 2nd Quarter

Grants from Komen, NIH support projects relating to treatment of difficult diseases, ways to combat health disparities
Tuesday, July 14, 2015

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Several Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center faculty members have recently received significant grant funding to support research projects to develop new therapeutic approaches or overcome barriers to effective treatment and prevention. Totaling nearly $10 million, the grants will fund investigations of new approaches for ovarian and metastatic breast cancers, targeted and immune-based therapies, genetics and more.

Two projects headed by Deborah Erwin, PhD, Director of the Office of Cancer Health Disparities Research, both funded by Susan G. Komen® Western New York, aim to make an immediate impact on low-income and/or minority women here in Western New York. The grants, totaling more than $276,000, will focus on early breast cancer detection toward the goal of eliminating cancer health disparities among Latina, African-American, lower-income, rural and other medically underserved women.

Dr. Erwin was awarded a one-year Komen WNY grant of $77,182 to provide culturally tailored education to 700 women, and to navigate 425 eligible women for breast exams, mammograms, transportation assistance, translation services and follow-up assessment. The second grant, a two-year award for $199,474, funds culturally appropriate services to women whose breast imaging reported abnormal findings. This project helps women receive timely clinical services such as biopsy and treatment planning, and provides navigation through treatment and survivorship.

“Komen Western New York’s Community Grants program is designed to save lives by making systemic, lasting change in breast cancer incidents and mortality rates in our community,” said Komen WNY Executive Director Liz Kahn. “We are certain that Dr. Erwin and her team will successfully carry out that mission through these two very innovative and important programs.”

Other awardees and projects funded during the second quarter of 2015 are:

Brahm Segal, MD, Chief of Infectious Diseases and Member of the Department of Immunology, and Kirsten Moysich, PhD, Professor of Oncology in the departments of Cancer Prevention and Control and Immunology, received a five-year, $3.15 million award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to study immune responses in women with ovarian cancer and identify biomarkers to predict response to therapy. In doing so, the researchers hope to determine those women who are less likely to benefit from traditional ovarian cancer treatment and those who might be candidates for investigational treatments. This research may also identify new targets for immunotherapy. This project benefitted from an $11 million ovarian cancer Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant from the NCI, jointly held by Roswell Park and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI). Dr. Segal was awarded a SPORE Developmental Research Project, which enabled the team to generate key preliminary results that contributed to the success of this application.

Aimin Jiang, PhD, Assistant Member of the Department of Immunology, received a five-year, $2.01 million grant from the NCI to investigate the role of the protein beta-catenin in adversely affecting the antitumor immunity induced by cancer vaccines and develop new strategies to improve the efficacy of cancer vaccines, potentially leading to improved vaccination options.

William Cance, MD, FACS, Surgeon-in-Chief and Chair of the Department of Surgical Oncology, received a five-year, $1.78 million renewal of grant funding from the NCI to continue his research into the role of focal adhesion kinase (FAK) in human cancer invasion and metastasis. FAK is emerging as a major therapeutic target in cancer, and Dr. Cance’s group is actively developing new drugs to treat a wide variety of cancers.

Andrei Gudkov, PhD, DSci, Senior Vice President of Basic Science and Chair of the Department of Cell Stress Biology, received a three-year, $1.2 million Breast Cancer Research Program Breakthrough Award from the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program to assess treatment of metastatic breast cancer with entolimod, a proprietary investigational drug developed by Cleveland BioLabs Inc. Current therapies against metastatic breast cancer have limited success and significant toxicities. Entolimod is a targeted therapy that activates immune responses and mobilizes immunocytes to organs and tumors that express entolimod’s target, TLR5, and has shown preclinical potential for treating metastatic disease, including liver metastases. A Breakthrough Award is intended to support promising research that has potential to lead to or make breakthroughs in breast cancer therapy.

Kevin Eng, PhD, Assistant Professor of Oncology in the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, received a three-year, $501,839 career development award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to further develop methods to analyze the immunological and genomic data collected in ongoing immunotherapy trials conducted at Roswell Park. Dr. Eng and colleagues expect that these data and methods will allow them to better characterize the immune response to cancer, how tumors respond to immune-targeting therapies and the mechanisms that allow cancer to evade targeted treatments.

Eugene Yu, PhD, Professor of Oncology in the Department of Cancer Genetics, received a two-year, $473,850 award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to use genome sequencing to establish and analyze the models mimicking the genetic alterations identified in patients enrolled in the National Institutes of Health Undiagnosed Disease Program. Through this project, Dr. Yu hopes to determine the impact of these genetic alterations on human diseases.

Tracey O’Connor, MD, Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine, received a four-year, $287,817 subcontract award, part of a larger grant to the University at Buffalo from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to examine how a patient’s inherited ability to break down a class of chemotherapy drugs called anthracyclines may influence the side effects to be expected. Looking at enzymes that metabolize anthracyclines, the study aims to determine whether an individual’s inherited pattern of enzymes influences the development of heart muscle dysfunction, an uncommon but important side effect of these drugs.

Theresa Hahn, PhD, Professor of Oncology in the Department of Medicine, and Lara Sucheston-Campbell, PhD, Associate Professor of Oncology in the Department of Cancer Prevention and Control, received a two-year award for $175,500 from the NCI to investigate the role of inherited genetic variations in contributing to the development of certain leukemia types. The research aims to validate and extend the known genes associated with risk for acute lymphoblastic leukemia and provide the first evidence of genetic risk for acute myeloid leukemia, findings that could provide information for better knowledge of the risk of acute leukemia and potential tests for screening.

Michael Nemeth, PhD, Assistant Member of the departments of Medicine and Immunology, received a one-year award of $100,000 from the Leukemia Research Foundation for his investigations into how the cellular environment that supports the growth and survival of acute myeloid leukemia cells alters the effectiveness of chemotherapy agents used to treat this disease. Identifying processes by which the cellular environment protects leukemia cells opens up the potential for developing new approaches for improving treatment of patients with blood cancers.

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The mission of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is to understand, prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1898, Roswell Park 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 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or email AskRoswell@Roswellpark.org. Follow Roswell Park on Facebook and Twitter.

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