CPRIT awards Mays Cancer Center more than $10.3 million

SAN ANTONIO (Aug. 20, 2020) — The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas awarded more than $10.3 million Aug. 19 to the Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson.

The five grants include $6 million to recruit David Gius, MD, PhD, a breast cancer and radiation oncology researcher from the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center at Northwestern University. CPRIT also awarded a second recruitment grant of $2 million and three grants to individual cancer researchers.

Mays Cancer Center Director Ruben Mesa, MD, MACP, welcomed the new CPRIT funding on the heels of the cancer center receiving a five-year renewal of its National Cancer Institute designation last week, which brings an additional $10 million to the center.

David Gius, MD., PhD
David Gius, MD., PhD

“Dr. Gius brings an extraordinary track record as an innovative physician-scientist and cancer researcher to the Mays Cancer Center. As our new associate cancer center director for translational research, he will help move scientific discoveries from the laboratory bench to the bedside,” he said.

Dr. Gius studies the processes that govern aging, cellular metabolism and cancer, and has developed several mouse models to study these health issues in breast and other types of cancer. “He adds to our growing cadre of breast cancer experts and builds on our growing efforts to expand research in radiation oncology,” Dr. Mesa added. Dr. Gius’ experience in translational science will be pivotal to linking our studies in the biology of breast cancer to the clinical treatment of breast cancer.”

Following are the additional researchers and their awards:

Dmitri Ivanov, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry and structural biology, will receive an Individual Investigator Research Award for Cancer in Children and Adolescents in the amount of $1,198,659. The topic is “Enhancing Cytarabine Response Through SAMHD1 Inhibition.”

Dr. Ivanov’s team is interested in identifying and optimizing small molecules for drug development. In this project, the team will explore whether small-molecule inhibitors of SAMHD1, a protein involved in immune responses, can improve clinical efficacy of cytarabine. Cytarabine is a chemotherapy used with other drugs to treat acute myeloid leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia and chronic myeloid leukemia. The team includes Raushan Kurmasheva, PhD, at the university’s Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute and Stanton McHardy, PhD, at The University of Texas at San Antonio.

Mingjiang Xu, MD, PhD, professor of molecular medicine and the San Antonio Cancer Council Distinguished Chair in Oncology, will receive an Individual Investigator Award of $900,000. The topic is “Role of HOTTIP lncRNA in Leukemogenesis.”

Dr. Xu is interested in long non-coding RNAs, which if dysregulated play major roles in the development and progression of many cancers. One of these molecules is HOTTIP, and Dr. Xu’s team seeks to understand its role in leukemia initiation.

Luiz Penalva, PhD, professor of cell systems and anatomy, and an investigator at the Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute, will receive a High-Impact/High-Risk Award of $249,968. The topic is “SERBP1 Epigenetic Regulation and Glioblastoma Targeting.”

Dr. Penalva is interested in RNA-binding proteins, which function as master regulators of gene expression. In a recent publication, Dr. Penalva and coauthors identified the RNA-binding protein SERBP1 as a novel regulator of glioblastoma development. Glioblastoma is the most common brain cancer with 13,000 new cases annually in the U.S., and average survival after diagnosis is 14 months.

Peng Zhao, PhD, postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Diego, will join the Department of Biochemistry and Structural Biology at UT Health San Antonio with support from a $2 million CPRIT award for recruitment of first-time, tenure-track faculty members. Dr. Zhao studies a condition called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and its progression to liver cancer.

CPRIT has awarded UT Health San Antonio more than $15.5 million in 2020, including February’s $4 million Rising Star Award to recruit Shaun Olsen, PhD, in the Department of Biochemistry and Structural Biology, and $1.2 million to Manjeet Rao, PhD, for studies of an enzyme protein that helps osteosarcoma cells spread.

In this latest round Aug. 19, CPRIT awarded 62 grants totaling more than $114 million that included 52 academic research awards, eight prevention awards and two product development research awards.

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The Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center, is one of only four National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Centers in Texas. The Mays Cancer Center provides leading-edge cancer care, propels innovative cancer research and educates the next generation of leaders to end cancer in South Texas. Visit www.UTHealthsaMDAnderson.org.

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