Dr. Song Yao

Roswell Park Attracts $28.2M in Grants, Including $9.7M for Studies of Breast Cancer in African-Americans

Studies will aid understanding of why some aggressive cancers resist treatment, advance new treatment options

  • Ten different research teams received funding of $1 million or more
  • List includes seven prestigious “R01” grants from National Cancer Institute
  • Also funded: Studies to aid recovery following surgery, develop T-cell therapy

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A $6.6 million award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) leads the latest slew of grants awarded to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers. These awards totaling more than $28.2 million in new funding from federal agencies as well as nonprofit foundations and associations will enable critical investigations to help explain why an aggressive form of breast cancer is more common in African-American women, learn how cancer metastasizes and develops resistance to treatment, explore opportunities to enhance patients’ recovery following surgery and advance development of a pioneering immunotherapy involving engineered T cells.

In 2018, grants and contracts brought in $92 million in newly awarded or continuing funding for research at Roswell Park.

“Researchers at Roswell Park continue to lead the way in cutting-edge discoveries,” says Congressman Brian Higgins. "These grants from the National Cancer Institute and other funding sources demonstrate both a confidence in the work being done right here at Roswell and great opportunity to better understand and treat cancer.”

“Cancer researchers today have to fight really hard for an increasingly limited pool of available funds, but our team continues to successfully compete and to demonstrate the impact their ideas and approaches may have for cancer patients,” says Candace S. Johnson, PhD, Roswell Park President and CEO.

The $6.6 million from the NCI, a prestigious five-year Research Project Grant or “R01” award, will fund a project led by Song Yao, PhD, Associate Professor of Oncology in the Department of Cancer Prevention and Control. His investigation is a multi-institution, multi-investigator project that seeks to understand how DNA mutations relate to the health disparities we see in breast cancer among African-American women. African-American women face the highest risk for the aggressive triple-negative type of breast cancer and have the highest mortality rate from breast cancer compared to other population groups. This project, B-CAUSE (Breast Cancer in African Americans: Understanding Somatic mutations and Etiology), will pool data and tumor samples from several studies across the nation, creating the largest tumor genomic database from African-Americans with breast cancer.

“Our study will provide a more definitive answer to the long-standing question of whether or not breast cancer biology differs by ancestry,” says Dr. Yao, who will lead this research in collaboration with colleagues from Boston University, Vanderbilt University and the University of Southern California. “Further, it will bridge the gap between fast-growing tumor mutation data and limited knowledge of their etiological roots. The findings may reveal cancer causation and provide new targets and motivations for cancer preventive initiatives.”

Highlights of other recent research grants Roswell Park researchers have successfully competed for:

Christine Ambrosone, PhD, Roswell Park Alliance Foundation Endowed Chair in Cancer Prevention and Senior Vice President for Population Sciences, and Michael J. Higgins, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, received a five-year, $3.1 million R01 grant from the NCI for their investigation into the association of having children, not breastfeeding, and the development of aggressive, estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer, particularly among African-American women. 

Andrew Ray, PhD, PT, Rehabilitation Specialist, Associate Professor of Oncology in Cancer Prevention and Control and Associate Member in Epidemiology and Prevention, received a five-year R01 grant for more than $3 million from the NCI. His work involves a program in which lung cancer patients participate in physical and respiratory therapy before undergoing thoracic surgery in an effort to prevent pulmonary complications after surgery.

Joseph Lau, PhD, Distinguished Member of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, received two recent grants totaling more than $3.7 million. The first is a four-year, $2.6 million R01 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease to explore the potential therapeutic value of a form of the protein ST6GAL1 in the treatment of inflammation. The other is a five-year, $1.03 million Physician Scientist Award from the Blood Center of Wisconsin and National Heart Lung and Blood Institute to develop and sustain programs supporting career development in glycosciences.

Elizabeth Repasky, PhD, Professor of Oncology in the Department of Immunology, received a five-year, $2.8 million R01 award from the NCI for her work, “Targeting adrenergic stress pathways to increase tumor sensitivity to radiation and promote development of an anti-tumor response.” The award is part of a collaboration with the University of Rochester.

Dean Tang, PhD, Chair of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, received a five-year, $2.17 million R01 award from the NCI for research on a protein, LRIG1, that appears to play a tumor-suppressive function in prostate cancer.

Susan McCann, PhD, RD, Professor of Oncology and Member of the Department of Cancer Prevention and Control, received a four-year, $1.6 million R01 grant from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Her research aims to identify factors in the blood that respond to flaxseed consumption and may eventually be targets to reduce chronic inflammation and alter immune function related to chronic disease.

Steven Pruitt, PhD, Professor of Oncology in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, received a five-year, $1.8 million grant from the NCI to continue an ongoing project looking at genome stability, cancer and aging.

Richard Koya, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Oncology and Associate Director of the Center for Immunotherapy, received a three-year, $1.03 million award from the Department of Defense for a clinical study for patients with ovarian cancer. This trial is the first ever to use a new immunotherapy approach using engineered T-cell injections combined with an epigenetic drug that increases the immunotherapy’s effect.

Meenalakshmi Chinnam, PhD, Research Associate in the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, received a five-year, $651,060 grant from the NCI to  test the hypothesis that mutation of the RB1 gene drives the transformation of prostate cancer to neuroendocrine variants and explore new therapeutic approaches to treat this lethal form of prostate cancer.

Kelvin Lee, MD, Jacobs Family Chair in Immunology, received a five-year, $610,955 renewal grant from the NCI to continue this ongoing training program for graduate students focused on multidisciplinary approaches to tumor immunology.

Subhamoy Dasgupta, PhD, Assistant Professor of Oncology in Cell Stress Biology, received a three-year, $450,000 grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation for “Targeting metabolic adaptations to inhibit breast tumor recurrence and metastasis.”

John Ebos, PhD, Assistant Professor of Oncology in the Department of Cancer Genetics and Genomics, received a four-year, $198,000 grant from the American Cancer Society for “Therapy induced secretomes as drivers of antiangiogenic drug resistance.”

Joseph Barbi, PhD, Assistant Professor of Oncology and Assistant Member in the Department of Immunology, received a one-year, $100,000 grant from the American Lung Association for “Overcoming Neurotrophin-mediated immune suppression to treat lung cancer.”

Renuka Iyer, MD, received a one-year, $100,000 grant from the Neuroendocrine Tumor Research Foundation to conduct an early-stage clinical study of SurVaxM, a cancer vaccine developed at Roswell Park, in survivin-positive neuroendocrine tumors.

Mateusz Opyrchal, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Oncology, received a one-year, $25,000 grant from the American Association for Cancer Research on the role of the PIEZO2 protein in breast cancer.


Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is a community united by the drive to eliminate cancer’s grip on humanity by unlocking its secrets through personalized approaches and unleashing the healing power of hope. Founded by Dr. Roswell Park in 1898, it is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in Upstate New York. Learn more at www.roswellpark.org, or contact us at 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or ASKRoswell@roswellpark.org.

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