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Alabama's top cancer center earns $11.5 million renewal of its breast cancer SPORE

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. As National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October has been a key time to recognize the strides made in breast cancer prevention, detection and treatment, and to press forward in the battle against the disease.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recognized the University of Alabama at Birminghams (UAB) commitment to cancer research by renewing a major grant to support groundbreaking breast cancer science and discovery. NIH has awarded the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center an $11.5 million renewal grant of its Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in breast cancer from the National Cancer Institute.

The UAB breast cancer SPORE is among 11 such projects funded nationally. Since its inception more than five years ago, the UAB program has grown into one of the most productive and highest-ranked efforts to combat the disease.

"Theres no question this grant is a fantastic honor, and a major recognition of our award-winning womens cancer care," said Cancer Center Director Edward Partridge, M.D. "What this means for the women of Alabama and the region is that our breast health program is stronger than ever. It also means that women who come to UAB with breast cancer, or risk factors for the disease, are potentially eligible for leading-edge treatments."

The $11.5 million grant will focus primarily on experimental compounds and cellular targets that have shown promise in preventing, slowing or effectively treating breast cancer. Three of the four main projects involve targeted therapies and anti-cancer compounds that were discovered or developed in the basic science laboratories of UAB, and will soon be tested here.

"The great fundamental strength of this SPORE is seizing on translational research taking a finding from the lab, and then moving it into clinical testing to see if it helps prevent, treat or conquer breast cancer," said Kirby I. Bland, M.D., chair of the UAB Department of Surgery and principal investigator of UABs breast cancer SPORE. Albert LoBuglio, M.D., is the co-principal investigator.

Limited federal funds for cancer research means that NIH-backed projects, particularly SPORE grants, must demonstrate potential for use in patients. "Each of these UAB breast cancer projects have already shown great potential for reducing cancer burden," Bland said.

The grant renewal will fund these four primary projects:

  • Anti-Cancer Antibody Targets DR5. Testing will continue for an experimental anti-cancer agent called TRA-8 in patients whose breast cancer has failed to respond to available therapies. TRA-8 is a monoclonal antibody developed at UAB. Studies show it targets a tumor cell death receptor (DR5) and induces cancer-cell death, while sparing healthy cells. Principal investigators are Tong Zhou, M.D., Albert LoBuglio, M.D. and Donald Buschbaum, Ph.D.
  • Retinoids for Chemoprevention. A Phase I clinical trial in humans will examine the experimental compound UAB30 to see if it can prevent breast-cancer recurrence. Developed and patented by UAB scientists years ago, UAB30 is a retinoid, which is a synthetic vitamin A-like compound with proven anti-cancer properties in animals. Other studies will look at retinoids to prevent hormone-resistant breast tumors in animals, or to see if retinoids can prevent and treat other types of cancers. Principal investigators are Donald Muccio, Ph.D., Clinton Grubbs, Ph.D. and Helen Krontiras, M.D.
  • KLF4 Cancer Gene Biomarkers. Research is underway to determine if targeting a UAB-discovered cancer gene called KLF4 with drugs can help treat certain aggressive forms of breast cancer. Also, researchers are looking at whether testing for KLF4 genes in breast tissue is a worthwhile predictor for a womans risk of getting cancer. Principal investigators are J. Michael Ruppert, M.D., Ph. D. and Kirby I. Bland, M.D.
  • Gamma/Delta T-cell Cancer Therapy. Testing is ongoing for an anti-cancer agent that mirrors the immune response of human gamma/delta T-cells when they detect a bodily invader. These specific cells are rare, comprising only five percent of all T-cells in the body, but theyre considered one of the bodys most powerful defenses against cancer. UAB has found a way to grow and purify these T-cells in the lab, and now plans to test their anti-cancer potential in breast tumors. Principal investigators are Richard Lopez, M.D. and Kurt Zinn, D.V.M., Ph.D.

Contact: Troy Goodman
University of Alabama at Birmingham

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