The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) recently awarded a $864,971 grant to Carl Gregory, PhD, associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine. His research proposal, “Targeting a Growth and Survival Pathway in Bone Tumor Cells,” was one of 48 new grants awarded totaling more than $93 million towards advancing the fight against cancer.

Gregory’s work, which focuses broadly on bones, had previously focused on using mesenchymal stem cells to heal broken bones faster and more effectively. With this grant, his research will delve into malignant bone disease, or bone cancer, which is involved in nearly 40 percent of diagnosed cancers in the United States. Bone cancer causes catastrophic damage to the bones by forming tumor-filled osteolytic bone lesions. “These lesions cause fractures and chronic pain, but more importantly, they provide a robust environment for tumor growth, thus reducing the probability of survival,” Gregory said. “Even with drugs that kill tumors and help prevent bone loss, osteolytic bone lesions frequently fail to heal and continually support tumor survival.”

Gregory thinks the key to finally treating these lesions might lie in proteins called Wnt inhibitors, which the tumors secrete to inhibit the body’s repair of the lesions. One type of Wnt inhibitor also seems to accelerate proliferation and enhance survival of the tumors. With the grant, Gregory and his team will establish that this is the case and test what happens when Wnt inhibitors are themselves inhibited.

“Successful completion of this study will increase our understanding of a mechanism that plays a key role in both tumor survival and bone destructive capacity in bone cancer, raising the possibility of a new generation of multi-purpose therapies,” Gregory added. “Our long-term goal is to develop novel bone-preserving and anti-tumor strategies for malignant bone disease.”

— Christina Sumners

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