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American Cancer Society awards research grants to 116 investigators at 75 institutions nationwide

The American Cancer Society, the largest non-government, not-for-profit funding source of cancer research in the United States, has awarded 116 national research and training grants totaling more than $54 million in the first of two grant cycles for 2009. The grants are the first under a new realignment that created six major program areas in research and training. All of the grants go into effect January 1, 2009.

"These grants reflect the best and brightest ideas in cancer research," said Elmer E. Huerta, M.D., M.P.H., national volunteer president of the American Cancer Society. "The American Cancer Society's Research and Training Program has invested over $3.3 billion in cancer research, much of it focusing on the work of promising new investigators, since its inception in 1946. During this time, we have funded 42 researchers, primarily early in their careers, who have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize. We fully expect that the ideas and innovations arising from these new grants will continue that legacy."

Below are some highlights of the newly awarded grants:

American Cancer Society Research Professors

  • Patrick Moore, MD, MPH and Yuan Chang, MD, University of Pittsburgh, will use powerful technology, some of which was invented in their joint laboratory, to search for newly identified viruses and related human tumors, including the aggressive skin cancer Merkel Cell Carcinoma, Karposi's Sarcoma, and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Viruses cause 10 to 15 percent of human cancers world-wide.

  • Wafik El-Deiry, MD, PhD, University of Pennsylvania, will focus on improving colon cancer and liver cancer patient survival through a better understanding of drug resistance during therapy, hoping to identify a combination drug therapy that prevents cancer cells from becoming drug resistant.

Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry of Cancer

  • Kevin A. Fiala, PhD, Harvard University, will research DNA repair pathways that are capable of effectively preventing cancer formation after DNA has been mutated because of chemicals in the environment (e.g. tobacco smoke, air pollution, etc.).

Cancer Cell Biology and Metastasis

  • Jana Lewis, PhD, Vanderbilt University, proposes to develop drugs targeting a specific component of a signaling pathway thought to be critical for the growth of tumor blood vessels.

  • Kris DeMali, PhD, University of Iowa, will examine how a unique protein known as vinculin helps hold cells tightly together and prevents them from invading and metastasizing. Her reasoning is that understanding how cells adhere to one another will uncover novel mechanisms that can be targeted to develop more effective chemotherapeutics.

Preclinical and Translational Cancer Research

  • Sonia Wennier, PhD University of Florida, is studying the adaptation of a rabbit pathogen, myxoma virus, as a highly innovative treatment for pancreatic cancer.

  • Jeffrey Engleman, PhD, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital, is studying specific combinations of targeted drugs to either re-establish drug effectiveness or prevent the development of resistance in lung and breast cancer.

Clinical Cancer Research and Immunology

  • Rutao Cui, MD, Loyola University, Chicago, is studying UV-induced melanogenic responses, which may provide significant new insights into the prevention of melanoma.

  • Susanna Greer, PhD, Georgia State University, is investigating new mechanisms of regulation of proteins involved in the induction of anti-tumor immune responses which will provide important new insights for development of tumor vaccines.

  • Sonia de Assis, PhD, Georgetown University, is studying whether in utero exposure of pregnant rats to estrogens or a high fat diet result in mammary cancer in their offspring, and in subsequent generations.

Cancer Control and Prevention Research

  • Wong, Yu-Ning, MD, Fox Chase Cancer Center, will examine the impact of cost sharing, including co-payments, caps on coverage, and deductibles, on patient's choices and decisions to take or continue with prescribed drugs, and the related outcomes (including side effects such as nausea) and clinical outcomes of such decisions.

  • Stanley Ridner, PhD, University of Louisville, will examine the impact of smoke-free laws on young adults' exposure to marketing activities in night clubs and bars. He will compare young adults in three communities: one that has no law prohibiting smoking; another that has a weak law; and a third that has a strong comprehensive smoking ordinance.

  • Donna Zhukovsky, MD, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, will examine symptoms children report and determine how close these are to symptoms reported by the adults. The overall goal is to improve communication about symptoms and what they mean to the child and to the treating physician so that these can be taken into consideration during treatment.

  • Michael Potter, MD, the University of California, San Francisco, will examine whether if offering colorectal cancer screening during visits to a flu shot clinic can be an effective way to increase screening rates.

Grant applications are ranked on the basis of merit by one of several discipline-specific Peer Review Committees, each of which includes 12 to 25 scientific advisors or expert peers. The Council for Extramural Grants, a committee of senior scientists, recommends funding based on the relative merit of the applications, the amount of available funds, and the Society's objectives. No member of the American Cancer Society's Board of Directors or National Assembly may serve on a Peer Review Committee or as a voting member on the Council for Extramural Grants.

The Council for Extramural Grants also approved 50 research grant applications that could not be funded due to budgetary constraints. These "pay-if" grants represent work that passed the Society's multi-disciplinary review process but go beyond the Society's current funding resources, and which will be funded if additional monies become available. "These grants serve as an important reminder that there continues to be promising research we would like to fund but cannot with our current resources," said Dr. Huerta.


Contact: David Sampson
American Cancer Society

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