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The Texas A&M Health Center of Excellence in Cancer Research hosted its first cancer research symposium in College Station, Texas, on May 22, 2023. The event brought together cancer researchers from across the region to meet, learn from each other and build momentum toward their shared goal of curing cancer.
The symposium highlighted the outstanding cancer research being performed across Texas A&M University and raised awareness of the newly established cancer center, which was made possible through a $6 milllion grant awarded by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) in March. Prior to the formation of the Center of Excellence in Cancer Research, collaboration between cancer researchers across Texas A&M was difficult and needed focus.
“Faculty were trying to bridge together, but we had no real resources. The only way we could secure resources to sustain and integrate was to compete for this large, externally funded award,” said the center’s deputy director, Robert Chapkin.
So Chapkin joined forces with another prominent cancer researcher at Texas A&M, Kenneth Ramos, to integrate the diverse cancer-related research activities across the university. The resulting center aims to build a collaborative platform, thereby enhancing researchers’ collective impact.
Ramos, who serves as the center’s director, identified three goals for the center:
“The center is expected to catalyze the growth of cancer research programs at Texas A&M and provide researchers with the infrastructure and institutional support they need,” Ramos said. “Another important focus of the center is bringing the latest in health care to underserved communities throughout Texas.”
Four outstanding assistant professors at Texas A&M were selected through a competitive process to join the inaugural cohort and present their innovative projects during the May symposium. Sanjukta Chakraborty, from the Institute of Biosciences and Technology, spoke about unexplored mechanisms of lymph node metastasis of solid tumors and novel therapeutic approaches. Irtisha Singh, from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, presented on mechanisms of chromatin, transcriptional and co-transcriptional regulation in cancer. Shogo Sato, from the biology department at the College of Arts and Sciences, discussed the circadian clock in cancer stem cells. And Shreya Raghavan, from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, spoke about harnessing tissue mechanics in colorectal tumor progression.
In addition to unifying research efforts, the center provides expert mentorship for its researchers and is entrusted to recruit new cancer researchers for Texas A&M.
“Our cancer scholars have formal mentors; in fact, teams of mentors are really organized through our center to help guide them,” Chapkin said.
The excitement for the future of the center, as well as for the future of cancer prevention and treatment, pulses through the center’s new cohort of investigators and its directors.
“I think most of my excitement is from the fact that there are a lot of people who are doing remarkable cancer research, but it has all been in isolated units or systems,” said Sanjukta Chakraborty, one of the inaugural scholars in the center. “One of the things the center does is bring together the cancer community of Texas A&M and help in establishing collaborations, furthering the research that we are all doing independently in our labs.”
The center is seeking more outstanding researchers to join its mission, and researchers can come from any part of campus with diverse backgrounds.
“As a scientist, I was inspired by a science project I developed as a high school chemistry student in which I isolated plant constituents to halt cellular proliferation in humans. Not by design, but more likely by default, this is the type of scientific work that has guided much of the work I have completed throughout my career,” Ramos said.
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