CPRIT awards $28.2 million to programs involving Health Science Center

SAN ANTONIO (June 23, 2010) — The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) on June 18 announced $28.2 million in funding for a trio of projects that include researchers from The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

The Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at the Health Science Center will help develop a statewide clinical trials network called CTNet, thanks to a CPRIT award of $23.5 million. Anand Karnad, M.D., professor of hematology and medical oncology, represents the CTRC and the Health Science Center School of Medicine on the multi-investigator grant.

“One of the major goals of CTNet is to develop and conduct highly innovative clinical trials throughout the state of Texas,” Dr. Karnad said. “We will enhance access for patients to cancer clinical trials, improve cancer care in communities through education and outreach to physicians, staff and patients, and provide a conduit for new cancer therapies, diagnostics and devices.”

Eight M.D. and Ph.D. fellows, five soon-to-be Ph.D.’s and M.D./ Ph.D.’s, and 18 undergraduate students will study cancer biology annually in university labs, thanks to a three-year CPRIT award of $2.4 million. Lead investigator on the grant is Susan L. Naylor, Ph.D., professor of cellular and structural biology in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. A world-renowned geneticist, Dr. Naylor co-chairs the graduate school’s cancer biology track of study.

Supporting training at different levels of accomplishment is intentional and highly needed, Dr. Naylor said. Some students working toward their Ph.D or. M.D./Ph.D. degrees are already in the cancer biology track of study while others are doing cancer research in the School of Medicine’s Department of Radiology. There is also an existing summer program for undergraduate students from minority-serving and other institutions that, thanks to CPRIT, will grow larger.

“CPRIT wants to get students interested in science and training right away,” Dr. Naylor said of the summer program. “We will spark the interest of students when they are young and can get really enthusiastic about research.”

A CPRIT grant of $2.3 million will fund a project to discover new genetic and biological information about formation of liver tumors in children. Gail Tomlinson, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and the Greehey Distinguished Chair in Genetics of Cancer at the Health Science Center, is the principal investigator of this two-year program, which will undertake a detailed genomic analysis of 100 hepatoblastoma tumor specimens. Hepatoblastomas are the most common pediatric liver tumors and occur primarily in children under 5.

Other national initiatives have analyzed 100 each of the most common adult tumors, such as those in the breast, colon and lungs. “This grant will provide an opportunity to perform similar studies on a much less common tumor of young children that otherwise would be excluded from other national efforts,” said Dr. Tomlinson, interim director of the Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute.

The team will compare tumors that respond well to therapy with those that are treatment resistant. The goal is better-tailored therapies that avoid excess side effects. A CPRIT announcement called this program in childhood liver cancer “outstanding” and predicted it would “make Texas a world leader in this area.”

The grants are great news for the CTRC, said the center’s executive director, Ian M. Thompson Jr., M.D.: “This timely infusion from CPRIT is extremely important for our National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center. Expanded research training funds will allow us to pair our strong research base in cancer with educational programs to train and recruit the innovative cancer scientists of tomorrow. Establishing a seamless statewide clinical trials network will make many more patients eligible for the wide range of research studies we offer. Finally, increased understanding of the genetics and biology of pediatric liver cancers will provide new therapy alternatives for children under our care at the CTRC.”

The previous CPRIT grants to the Health Science Center are $2 million to Dmitri Ivanov, Ph.D., CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research, for biochemistry studies; $1.8 million to the CTRC’s Dr. Thompson for prostate cancer research; and $299,000 to Cynthia Mojica, Ph.D., of the Institute for Health Promotion Research for a project promoting breast, cervical and colorectal cancer education among Latinas.

The Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is one of the elite academic cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Cancer Center, and is one of only three in Texas. A leader in developing new drugs to treat cancer, the CTRC Institute for Drug Development (IDD) conducts one of the largest oncology Phase I clinical drug programs in the world, and participates in development of cancer drugs approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. For more information, visit www.ctrc.net.

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