NIH Awards $1.36 Million To RPCI Scientists; Unrelated Grant From NCCN Focuses On Care Optimization

BUFFALO, NY — Several Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center (Roswell Park) faculty members have received funding from federal agencies or national organizations in support of research projects that further the Institute’s mission to understand, prevent and cure cancer.

Four researchers received significant grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the federal medical-research agency that operates as an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

  • Nicoletta Sacchi, PhD, Distinguished Member in the Department of Cancer Genetics, was awarded $421,423 from the NIH to study the circumstances that change how the body uses retinoic acid, a derivative of Vitamin A. Normally, retinoic acid is essential for proper growth inhibition and maintenance of healthy cells. But in many cancers, something occurs that disrupts the normal function of retinoic receptors and the genes they control. “Instead of a beneficial effect,” Dr. Sacchi explains, “retinoic acid fuels tumor growth, causing cancer cells to proliferate and metastasize.” Dr. Sacchi’s work aims to identify the genetic and environmental factors that cause the dysfunction and to determine a way to restore normal retinoic response. Ultimately, the results of this study should assist in protecting vulnerable subgroups in the population from risk of overconsumption of retinoic acid.
  • Steven Pruitt, PhD, Associate Member in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, received a $337,455 NIH grant to investigate the mechanism controlling locations at which DNA replication initiates DNA damage, leading to cancer. Through research in mice, Dr. Pruitt plans to define how genetic background influences this mechanism, resulting in differences in cancer susceptibility; to determine whether specific replication origins are particularly susceptible to DNA damage; and to define the triggering mechanism for this damage. “This work is already yielding important insights into the etiology of cancer,” says Dr. Pruitt.
  • Peter Demant, MD, PhD, Distinguished Member in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, has received a $302,508 grant from the NIH to identify and explore genes that control whether tumor-attacking immune cells are able to destroy a tumor. Although researchers have made great strides in developing lymphocytes and other immune cells to provide immunotherapy options, such as vaccines, to fight cancer, this approach’s success depends on the lymphocytes’ ability to infiltrate the tumor. Whether they do appears to be controlled by the host’s own genes. “By identifying the particular genes and their location in mice and their corresponding counterparts in humans,” explains Dr. Demant, “this work aims to open new avenues to predicting and enhancing the potential for immunologic therapies.”
  • William Cance, MD, FACS, Chair, Department of Surgical Oncology, has received $299,657 from the NIH to examine the role of focal adhesion kinase (FAK), a protein that functions as a survival signal for cancer cells. Dr. Cance’s work has already identified three specific sites that are critical for FAK activity and specific inhibitors for each of them. He plans to test these inhibitors’ effect on inducing cell death in cancer cells, suppressing cancer cell growth, inhibiting new blood-vessel formation critical to tumor cells and preventing metastasis. “This research will explore the function of FAK,”says Dr. Cance, “and develop novel inhibitors that target its function as a prelude to novel anti-cancer therapies.”

Additionally, Stephen Edge, MD, FACS, Professor of Surgery and Oncology, received a three-year, $105,000 grant from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) to participate in a national project to assess and improve breast-cancer care at major cancer centers. Roswell Park was a founding member of the NCCN Breast Outcomes Program that compares treatment information on patients to NCCN practice guidelines. “As part of this work, Roswell Park continually reviews the care provided,” says Dr. Edge. “Our patients receive high-quality care, however, there are always areas for improvement in assuring that patients do not miss care and in coordination of care.” Through the NCCN Breast Outcomes Program Opportunities for Improvement grant, Roswell Park will be among 10 cancer centers analyzing all aspects of breast-cancer care to identify ways to improve cancer outcomes and the experience for patients.

The mission of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is to understand, prevent and cure cancer. Roswell Park, founded in 1898, was 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 Roswell Park’s website at, call 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or email

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