CPRIT awards UT Health San Antonio $2 million to recruit liver cancer researcher

SAN ANTONIO (Nov. 20, 2020) — The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awarded UT Health San Antonio $2 million to recruit a second scientist studying nonalcoholic liver disease (NASH).

The funding, awarded Nov. 18, will bring Xiaoli Sun, PhD, a young-career scientist studying liver cancer, to UT Health San Antonio from the University of California San Diego. Dr. Sun has developed unique mouse models to study NASH, the buildup of fat in the liver that can lead to liver cancer. She will be joining the Department of Pharmacology in the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine.

In August, CPRIT funded a $2 million grant to recruit her husband, Peng Zhao, PhD, to UT Health San Antonio’s Department of Biochemistry and Structural Biology. Dr. Zhao’s work is highly complementary to that of Dr. Sun, using different mouse models to help define the etiology of NASH and liver cancer.

The couple will be joining the faculty in early 2021.

“NASH and liver cancer are major health concerns in South Texas especially among Hispanics, which are our majority population,” said Ruben Mesa, MD, FACP, executive director of the Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson.

“Through our recruitment of Dr. Sun and Dr. Zhao, we are addressing some of the most urgent cancer research needs for patients in South Texas, and at the same time are fulfilling the strategic vision of our National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center to become a national leader in learning how liver cancer develops and devising new treatments,” he said.

Liver cancer is a major cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., with more than 30,160 people expected to die of the disease in 2020. Additionally, the American Cancer Society, notes that the rate of liver cancer has more than tripled since 1980, and the death rate has more than doubled during this time.

The predominantly Hispanic population of South Texas experiences high liver cancer mortality due to the prevalence of obesity and NASH.

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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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