CPRIT awards $5.8 million to UT Health Science Center

The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) on Nov. 16 announced $5.8 million for research and training programs of the Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. The CTRC is one of the state’s four NCI-designated Cancer Centers.

The largest grant, $3,996,895, will fund five additional years of cancer research training at the Health Science Center. Six postdoctoral fellows and six graduate students per year gain experience in cancer research. In addition, the CPRIT funding provides a summer program that brings in a dozen talented and motivated undergraduate students annually from across the country to learn about cancer research.

“The cancer research training program at the Health Science Center is a continuum from the undergraduate to the postdoctoral levels,” said the program’s director, Babatunde “Kay” Oyajobi, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., associate professor of cell systems and anatomy and a member of the CTRC. “We are fortunate to have this support because it allows us to support more of our really promising trainees than is ordinarily possible. In this way, outstanding young scientists advance in their careers in cancer research and more cutting-edge research is done in Texas on cancer.”

The new funding ensures that these vitally important training programs, which CPRIT Research Training Awards have supported since June 2010, will not be interrupted.

A second grant, $900,000 over three years, will fund studies of mammary gland development with the goal of preventing breast cancer that is associated with the BRCA1 gene mutation. Yanfen Hu, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular medicine and a CTRC member, is the project leader.

“During mammary gland development, just like development of any tissue, there are a lot of specific programs that ensure the right development is occurring, and these programs are tightly regulated,” Dr. Hu said. “We’ve learned that the programs can experience certain problems that stress the cells and affect the development. We will explore potential, novel approaches to interfere with the stress and prevent BRCA 1-associated breast cancer.”

The third CPRIT grant announced Nov. 16 is $900,000 over three years to support studies of a type of cancer called diffuse large B cell lymphoma. Ricardo C. T. Aguiar, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine and a CTRC member, is the project leader.

Lymphoma, a cancer derived from cells of the immune system called lymphocytes, remains difficult to treat. “A better understanding of the genes and physiologic processes that are subverted to allow lymphomas to develop is the best approach to improve on its current, unacceptably low, cure rate,” Dr. Aguiar said.

This project builds on earlier data developed in the Aguiar laboratory to test the concept that inhibition of the enzyme phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4) is a strategy that suppresses the lymphoma cells as well as the non-malignant environment that supports their growth. “Clinical application of these findings is within reach, for we have recently demonstrated that PDE4 inhibitors are safe and active in patients with lymphomas and related cancers,” Dr. Aguiar said.

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 four 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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