CPRIT awards millions to UT Health San Antonio

Erase Cancer

Cancer prevention programs and initiatives to recruit faculty to UT Health San Antonio got a $3.5 million boost from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).

The awards, announced Aug. 16, bring total funding to UT Health San Antonio by CPRIT to about $74.6 million since the program began in 2008. The UT Health Cancer Center is one of the state’s National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Centers, and is a leader in cancer control programs.

“I am pleased to be joining UT Health San Antonio this month as director of the UT Health Cancer Center and am gratified to see that CPRIT has supported these innovative cancer research and prevention projects and faculty recruitment,” said Ruben A. Mesa, M.D., FACP, director and professor of medicine in the Long School of Medicine.

Recruitment of Siyuan Zheng, Ph.D.

A $2 million award will bring Siyuan Zheng, Ph.D., to UT Health’s Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute. Dr. Zheng’s faculty appointment will be in the Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics of the Joe R. & Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine.

Dr. Zheng is currently at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and has extensive experience in the development of computational tools and mining of high-throughput datasets. His primary research focus is using data analysis to gain understandings about the cancer genome, the complete set of genes present in cancer cells.

“Dr. Zheng has already made important observations regarding the genetics of pediatric and adult adrenal cortical cancer and potential treatments. His strengths in computational biology will help us significantly enhance our Big Data and genomic research capabilities to study cancer development as a complex system,” said Peter Houghton, Ph.D., director of the Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute.

$1.3 million grant to Amelie G. Ramirez, Dr.P.H.

Amelie G. Ramirez, Dr.P.H., professor in the Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics and director of the Institute of Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio, received a $1.3 million CPRIT grant to expand Quitxt, a bilingual service that sends texts with culturally and regionally tailored support to help South Texas young adults quit smoking.

The funding will enhance the Quitxt service with a new social media support component. Quitxt is currently designed to turn a user’s phone into a personal quit-smoking coach by providing texts and links to online support, educational content, music and videos.

Quitxt also will extend beyond South Texas to include English and Spanish speakers in rural counties, and Spanish speakers in urban areas of South, West and Central Texas.

“We are deeply honored to be able to expand and extend our Quitxt texting program to help young adults quit smoking across Texas,” Dr. Ramirez said.

Dr. Ramirez’s project team will include Patricia Chalela, Dr.P.H., and Kip Gallion, M.A., at UT Health San Antonio, with assistance from text-message system expert Dr. David Akopian, Ph.D., of UT San Antonio and his team, as well as Alfred McAlister, Ph.D., a tobacco cessation and communication expert from the UT School of Public Health–Austin Regional Campus.

$200,000 to study lung cancer treatment

The third CPRIT grant is $200,000 to support a novel chemical strategy to treat lung cancer and potentially many other cancer types. Hai Rao, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Molecular Medicine, is the project leader.

Proteins called epidermal growth factor receptors frequently become hyperactive in lung cancers. “Our idea is to develop small molecules that will bring these proteins to the proteasome, which is cellular machinery that degrades proteins when they no longer are needed,” Dr. Rao said.

If this small-molecule approach is successful, this may lead to a novel, effective strategy for cancer therapy in general, Dr. Rao said.

Another project receiving CPRIT funding is a study of the optimization of a novel class of microtubule stabilizers to circumvent multiple drug-resistance mechanisms. April Risinger, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology at UT Health San Antonio, is a co-principal investigator on the grant, awarded to The University of Texas at San Antonio. The project is led by Douglas Frantz, Ph.D., principal investigator.



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