cancer cell

Texas A&M Health Science Center faculty receive $600,000 in CPRIT grants for cancer research

June 3, 2016

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) recently awarded grants totaling $600,000 to three faculty members in the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine.

Raquel Sitcheran, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Medicine, received a $200,000 grant for her research investigating how the enzyme protein NF-kappaB-inducing kinase (NIK) regulates a tumor’s ability to invade healthy tissue, a key feature of all aggressive tumors. NIK is known to play an important role in immunity, and misregulation of NIK has been associated with many hematological and solid cancers.

“Our preliminary findings show that genetically knocking out NIK dramatically alters the shape and abundance of mitochondria (the organelles in cells where energy production occurs),” Sitcheran said. “This proposal will investigate how NIK regulates mitochondrial morphology and function to supply energy requirements for the migration and invasion of high-grade gliomas (a tumor that occurs in the brain). Completion of this study will open new lines of research into understanding how mitochondrial dysfunction contributes to cancer progression, with the ultimate goal of improving treatment outcomes for patients.”

Carl Gregory, Ph.D., associate professor in the Institute for Regenerative Medicine, received a $200,00 grant for his research on an unlikely therapeutic target for malignant bone disease.

About 35 percent of the 700,000 diagnosed cancers in the United States will involve serious bone complications. Malignant bone disease (MBD) occurs when tumors either begin in bones or travel to them from other tissues. When they populate bone, tumor cells have a tendency to cause catastrophic damage in the form of osteolytic lesions (OLs). OLs are holes in the bone that frequently cause fractures and pain and provide an ideal environment for tumor growth.

“The key to treating MBD is to simultaneously target tumor growth and bone destruction while accelerating bone repair,” Gregory said. “We have discovered a protein, known as Dkk-1, that is produced by bone tumor cells and has the capacity to inhibit bone repair in surrounding tissues and increase the resistance of tumors to chemotherapy. If Dkk-1 can be targeted effectively, it may result in a treatment that enhances bone repair in OLs while improving the ability to kill tumor cells—drastically improving our ability to fight MBD. A successful study could lead to immediate or long-term medical and scientific breakthroughs in the area of cancer prevention or cures for cancer.”

A third $200,000 grant was awarded to Zhilei Chen, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Microbial Pathogenesis and Immunologies, for her research, A Platform Technology for the Isolation of Anti-Cancer Monoclonal Antibodies from Chickens.

“Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) represent a powerful therapy for cancer treatment. Currently, therapeutic mAbs are almost always made by mice, which produce antibodies against immunization with human cancerous proteins that are seen as foreign by the mice,” Chen said. “Unfortunately, mice are not an ideal host for therapeutic mAb engineering because humans and mice are both mammals who share similar proteins, and mice do not easily recognize “self-like” proteins as foreign. Chickens, which are not mammals, represent a much richer source of potentially life-saving antibodies for human cancer therapy.”

Chen’s project, in collaboration with Prof. Luc Berghman, aims to leverage her lab’s expertise in high-throughput cell-based screening to develop an in vitro cell screening approach for the isolation of anti-cancer monoclonal antibodies from chickens. If successful, this work could enable the exploitation of a much richer source of potentially life-saving anti-cancer antibodies than mammals for mAb-based human cancer therapy.

— Lauren Thompson

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