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Support for brain cancer research

College of Medicine professor receives grant from CPRIT to study glioblastoma
Raquel Sitcheran

The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awarded a grant to a team of researchers headed by Raquel Sitcheran, PhD, an associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine. It is one of 25 High Impact High Risk Awards CPRIT distributed, totaling nearly $5 million, for exploratory projects targeting new avenues of cancer research.

Sitcheran’s grant helps her to continue studying brain cancer. While some of her earlier research focused on the role of mitochondria in the ability of glioma cells to grow and spread, the current grant will study the role of drugs called kinase inhibitors in treating glioblastoma, the most common and deadliest adult brain tumor (this is the type of cancer Senator John McCain had). They are notably difficult to remove surgically because they tend to invade healthy nearby brain tissue.

Kinase inhibitors, which can successfully treat other types of cancers, are not as effective against many brain cancers, including glioblastoma. This may be because they do not cross the blood-brain barrier very well, and those that do make it through tend to be actively pumped back out of the brain.

Cyanine dyes might hold part of the solution, Sitcheran says. They have been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier and accumulate in tumors, but not in normal brain cells—thus making it easier to determine which cells are cancerous. In the past, these dyes have been attached to various other drugs, but no one has tried attaching them to kinase inhibitors. That’s where this CPRIT grant comes in. With it, Sitcheran and her team—including Texas A&M chemist Kevin Burgess, PhD, who earned his own CPRIT grant in 2015 to study improved treatments for another type of cancer, acute myeloid leukemia—will test the hypothesis that joining together kinase inhibitors and cyanine dyes in new therapeutic agents, called Cy-KIs, will create drugs that can localize to glioblastoma tumors and have increased potency in diminishing their growth and invasion into healthy brain cells.

Since its creation, CPRIT has awarded 1,317 grants totaling more than $2.15 billion. During the 85th Texas Legislature, CPRIT’s Sunset Review date was extended by two years to 2023 to allow the agency to fully utilize all funds, totaling $3 billion approved by Texas voters in 2007, to fight cancer.

“We are grateful for CPRIT’s support of this research, which will help us develop new treatment options to treat glioblastoma,” Sitcheran said. “We hope that administering Cy-KIs before brain surgery will ‘light up’ tumor tissue that can be surgically removed while simultaneously delivering chemotherapeutic agents, thus facilitating new treatment methods to improve glioblastoma patient survival.”

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