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Tsai wins innovator award for plan to map molecular path to skin cancer

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A proposal to examine the cellular journey from normal skin, to precancerous lesion to skin cancer earned Kenneth Tsai, M.D., Ph.D., the Sixth Annual Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Award for Cancer Prevention Research at the AACR Annual Meeting 2013 in Washington, D.C., April 6-10.

An assistant professor in The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Departments of Dermatology and Immunology, Tsai says the project will provide rare insight into the process that starts with normal skin and progresses to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).

The award is one of six earned by MD Anderson faculty at this year's AACR meeting.

"Skin is ideally suited for this type of analysis because it's easily accessible for sampling. Furthermore, squamous cell carcinoma and its precancerous lesions are relatively common and well-defined clinically and histologically," Tsai said. "We don't have a good understanding of the genetic events that occur along the way."

"By identifying important genetic differences, we hope to find biomarkers of risk for the precancerous lesions, called actinic keratosis, and for skin cancer progression," Tsai said. "We ultimately aim to identify targets for chemoprevention at all stages and develop therapies for them."

In addition to identifying and effectively treating those at the greatest risk, another benefit would be identification of those who don't need intensive treatment or surveillance.

Normal skin, actinic keratosis and cancer samples from each patient

Skin cancer is the most common type of human cancer and is highly preventable. In the United States, there are more than 3 million cases annually. Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma is caused by ultraviolet light exposure, mainly from the sun, and comprises 15 to 20 percent of skin cancer cases.

Working with fellow dermatologists at MD Anderson and several other Houston practices, Tsai collects samples of all three types of tissue from each patient. This is a key advantage, because comparing different tissue types among different people would introduce greater variability into his results.

The award, for $100,000 spread over two years, is one of three Landon awards given annually. MD Anderson scientist Guang Peng, Ph.D. assistant professor in the Department of Cancer Prevention, won the 2012 award for cancer prevention research.

Duncan Family Institute seed grant paved way

"I thought of this project almost two years but had no resources to begin," Tsai said "Then I received a seed grant from the Duncan Family Institute for Cancer Prevention and Risk Assessment, which enabled me to get going and provided the data we needed to compete for the Landon award."

The Duncan Family Institute is part of MD Anderson's Division of Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences. The project is a collaboration among basic scientists, bioinformatics and gene sequencing experts and dermatologists.

The AACR will honor the award recipients at a grants reception and dinner Tuesday night in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

In addition to the cancer prevention award, there are also the Sixth Annual Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Award for International Collaboration in Cancer Research and the Fourth Annual Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Award for Research in Personalized Cancer Medicine.

The Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Awards, established in 2008, are designed to foster innovation and collaboration in cancer research and support independent investigators early in their careers. The awards provide recognition and data to use to apply for additional funding.


Contact: Scott Merville
University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center

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