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Texas A&M Health awarded $3 million from National Cancer Institute

Funding will support investigation of immune-targeted treatments in precancerous gastrointestinal lesions
researcher works with liquid samples in a laboratory

Texas A&M University Health Science Center (Texas A&M Health) has been awarded a new five-year $3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to study immune-based treatments for early precancerous lesions in the gastrointestinal tract. Roderick Dashwood, PhD, FRSB, director of the Center for Epigenetics and Disease Prevention at the Texas A&M Health Institute of Biosciences and Technology and Distinguished Professor at the Texas A&M School of Medicine, and Eduardo Vilar-Sanchez, MD, PhD, associate professor with the Department of Clinical Cancer Prevention at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, will serve as principal investigators.

“According to the National Institutes of Health review panel, this project promises to strongly impact cancer prevention and immune recognition in familial polyposis, enabling prioritization of patients in the clinic,” Dashwood said.

Previous research has shown that cancer cells survive and grow by hiding from the immune system, in part, by diminishing cell surface receptors called major histocompatibility (MHC) factors. These receptors provide information for the immune system to distinguish self from non-self, and to assist in fighting off various illnesses and diseases. The project will pursue epigenetic drugs—medications that re-express the MHC receptors and change cell function—to help eliminate cells at the precancer stage, before they become cancer cells. Although the work is focused on the gastrointestinal tract, the principles of the study may be applicable to precancer stages in other tissues.

“Researchers remain focused on later stages of cancer when these immune players are also being targeted therapeutically. Rather than immunotherapy, we are focused on immunoprevention. In other words, using new combinatorial agents to enhance MHC factors in the earliest precancer stages, before they advance and are much harder to tackle in patients,” Dashwood said.

In addition to Dashwood and Vilar-Sanchez, the study includes Praveen Rajendran, PhD, director of the Antibody & Biopharmaceuticals Core at the Center for Epigenetics & Disease Prevention and associate professor at the Texas A&M School of Medicine, and Greg Lesinski, PhD, MPH, co-director of the Translational GI Malignancy Program at Emory Winship Cancer Institute.

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