Toussaint and Sitcheran

College of Medicine researchers receive funding as part of campus-wide initiative encouraging interdisciplinary work

January 8, 2018

Two proposals involving faculty from the Texas A&M College of Medicine were among the seven chosen to receive seed funding as part of the Texas A&M University College of Science’s campus-wide collaborative R&D initiative known as the Strategic Transformative Research Program (STRP). In this, the program’s second call for submissions, the seven awards represent a $344,000 commitment toward advancing an interdisciplinary project.

David Earnest, PhD, and Gerard Toussaint, MD, both in the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics at the College of Medicine, received an award totaling $49,771. They are collaborating with Deborah Bell-Pedersen, PhD, of the College of Science, on a project to study the timed activation of a particular protein in glioblastoma, which is a common and aggressive form of brain cancer. This protein is associated with tumor proliferation and growth, and its normal diurnal regulation is disrupted in many malignancies. The researchers believe that this may lead to a more effective strategy to treat the cancerous cells and reduce the toxicity of chemotherapeutics on healthy tissues.

In the second award, totaling $50,000, Raquel Sitcheran, PhD, of the College of Medicine, is working with Kevin Burgess, PhD, of the College of Science, to approach glioblastoma in another way. Currently, one of the reasons this type of brain cancer is so difficult to treat is that most drugs have a difficult time crossing the blood-brain barrier. For the same reason, it can be difficult to distinguish tumors from healthy brain tissue as the dyes used to make them show up well in PET imaging may not be able cross the barrier. Therefore, this research will focus on creating and testing novel derivatives of dyes and therapeutic compounds that have improved abilities to get into the brain, with the end goal of being better able to both detect and treat glioblastoma.

Project selection is based on the innovative and interdisciplinary nature of the work and the subsequent plan for future proposal development and submission. “Our goal is to provide an influx of funds at the critical development phase of a project to help our researchers greatly enhance their competitiveness for higher level funding,” said College of Science Associate Dean for Research James D. Batteas, PhD, who serves as director of the STRP.

The initiative, launched in spring 2017, previously funded 11 research concepts put forward by 27 faculty in its initial call for submissions, resulting in $504,882 in total first-round funding. In that round, Rajesh Miranda, PhD, professor in the Texas A&M College of Medicine, was part of a team that received funds to study the use of motor protein devices to detect and study neuropthologies at the molecular level.

The work supported by these awards is expected to assist faculty as they test new concepts and ideas, ideally to ready them for submission as transformative research projects suitable for consideration for major funding opportunities through the federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTFA), and the Department of Energy (DOE). So far, three of the program’s 11 initial awards have already done so.

To date, 18 one-year awards in amounts ranging from $25,000 to $50,000 have been presented to support of a variety of research-related areas, primarily to help fund the graduate students whose work is key to these projects. These seed proposals are funded on a cost sharing basis with 50 percent of the cost coming from the Texas A&M Office of the Vice President for Research and 50 percent from the colleges of the principal investigators involved in the proposal.

“I’m proud that the College of Medicine is able to support these awards to help build interdisciplinary research teams at Texas A&M,” said Carrie L. Byington, MD, dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine, senior vice president of the Texas A&M University Health Science Center and vice chancellor for health services at The Texas A&M University System. “Team-based interdisciplinary research has great potential to answer complex questions, discover new therapies and, ultimately, advance health.”

To learn more about the Strategic Transformative Research Program or the other projects supported with this round of funding, visit http://www.science.tamu.edu/news/story.php?story_ID=1905#.Wk6Sr1Q-eL6

— Christina Sumners

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