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Houston cancer-fighting researchers granted over $30 million from statewide organization

Five Houston research centers have received funds from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas in its most recent round of grants. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has again granted millions to Texas institutions. Across the state, cancer-fighting scientists have received 55 new grants totaling over $78 million.

Five Houston-area institutions — Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Houston, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, and the The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center — have received around $30 million of that grand total.

"These awards reflect CPRIT's established priorities to invest in childhood cancer research, address population and geographic disparities, and recruit top cancer research talent to our academic institutions," says Wayne Roberts, CPRIT CEO, in a news release. "I'm excited about all the awardees, particularly those in San Antonio, a region that continues expand their cancer research and prevention prowess. San Antonio is poised to have an even greater impact across the Texas cancer-fighting ecosystem."

Four grants went to new companies that are bringing new technologies to the market. Two companies with a presence in Houston — Asylia Therapeutics and Barricade Therapeutics Corp. — received grants in this category.

Last fall, CPRIT gave out nearly $136 million to Texas researchers, and, to date, the organization has granted $2.49 billion to Texas research institutions and organizations.

Here's what recent grants were made to Houston institutions.

Baylor College of Medicine

  • $900,000 granted for Feng Yang's research in targeting AKT signaling in MAPK4-high Triple Negative Breast Cancer (Individual Investigator Award)
  • $897,527 Hyun-Sung Lee's research for Spatial Profiling of Tumor-Immune Microenvironment by Multiplexed Single Cell Imaging Mass Cytometry (Individual Investigator Award)
  • $899,847 for Joshua Wythe's research in targeting Endothelial Transcriptional Networks in GBM (Individual Investigator Award)

University of Houston

  • $890,502 for Matthew Gallagher's research in Transdiagnostic Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Smokers With Anxiety and Depression (Individual Investigator Research Award for Prevention and Early Detection)
  • $299,953 for Lorraine Reitzel's research in Taking Texas Tobacco Free Through a Sustainable Education/Training Program Designed for Personnel Addressing Tobacco Control in Behavioral Health Settings (Dissemination of CPRIT-Funded Cancer Control Interventions Award)

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston

  • $1,993,096 for Abbey Berenson's research in maximizing opportunities for HPV vaccination in medically underserved counties of Southeast Texas (Expansion of Cancer Prevention Services to Rural and Medically Underserved Populations)

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

  • $900,000 for Melissa Aldrich's research on "Can Microsurgeries Cure Lymphedema? An Objective Assessment" (Individual Investigator Award)
  • $900,000 for John Hancock's research in KRAS Spatiotemporal Dynamics: Novel Therapeutic Targets (Individual Investigator Award)
  • $900,000 for Nami McCarty's research in targeting Multiple Myeloma Stem Cell Niche (Individual Investigator Award)
  • $1.96 million for Paula Cuccaro's research in Expanding "All for Them": A comprehensive school-based approach to increase HPV vaccination through public schools (Expansion of Cancer Prevention Services to Rural and Medically Underserved Populations)

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

  • $900,000 for Laurence Court's research in Artificial Intelligence for the Peer Review of Radiation Therapy Treatments
  • $900,000 for John deGroot's research in targeting MEK in EGFR-Amplified Glioblastoma (Individual Investigator Award)
  • $900,000 for Don Gibbons's research in Investigating the Role ofCD38 as a Mechanism of Acquired Resistance to Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors in Lung Cancer (Individual Investigator Award)
  • $900,000 for John Heymach's research in Molecular Features Impacting Drug Resistance in Atypical EGFR Exon 18 and Exon 20 Mutant NSCLC and the Development of Novel Mutant- Selective Inhibitors (Individual Investigator Award)
  • $900,000 for Zhen Fan's research in Development of a Novel Strategy for Tumor Delivery of MHC-I-Compatible Peptides for Cancer Immunotherapy (Individual Investigator Award)
  • $900,000 for Jin Seon Im's research in off the shelf, Cord-Derived iNK T cells Engineered to Prevent GVHD and Relapse After Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (Individual Investigator Award)
  • $900,000 for Jae-il Park's research in CRAD Tumor Suppressor and Mucinous Adenocarcinoma (Individual Investigator Award)
  • $900,000 for Helen Piwnica-Worms's research in Single-Cell Evaluation to Identify Tumor-stroma Niches Driving the Transition from In Situ to Invasive Breast Cancer (Individual Investigator Award)
  • $898,872 for Kunal Rai's research in Heterogeneity of Enhancer Patterns in Colorectal Cancers- Mechanisms and Therapy (Individual Investigator Award)
  • $900,000 for Ferdinandos Skoulidis's research in Elucidating Aberrant Splicing-Induced Immune Pathway Activation in RBMl0-Deficient KRAS-Mutant NSCLC and Harnessing Its Potential for Precision Immunotherapy (Individual Investigator Award)
  • $887,713 for Konstantin Sokolov's research in High-Sensitivity 19F MRI for Clinically Translatable Imaging of Adoptive NK Cell Brain Tumor Therapy (Individual Investigator Award)
  • $900,000 for Liuqing Yang's research in Adipocyte-Producing Noncoding RNA Promotes Liver Cancer Immunoresistance (Individual Investigator Award)
  • $1.44 million for Eugenie Kleinerman's research in Doxorubicin-Induced Cardiotoxicity: Defining Blood and Echocardiogram Biomarkers in a Mouse Model and AYA Sarcoma Patients for Evaluating Exercise Interventions (Individual Investigator Award for Cancer in Children and Adolescents)
  • $2.4 million for Arvind Dasari's research in Circulating Tumor DNA- Defined Minimal Residual Disease in Colorectal Cancer (Individual Investigator Research Award for Clinical Translation)
  • Targeting Alterations of the NOTCH! Pathway in Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC)(Faye Johnson) - $1.2 million (Individual Investigator Research Award for Clinical Translation)
  • $2.07 million for Florencia McAllister's research in Modulating the Gut- Tumor Microbial Axis to Reverse Pancreatic Cancer Immunosuooression (Individual Investigator Research Award for Clinical Translation)
  • $2 million to recruit Eric Smith, MD, PhD, to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Award)
  • $2 million for Karen Basen-Engquist's research in Active Living After Cancer: Combining a Physical Activity Program with Survivor Navigation (Expansion of Cancer Prevention Services to Rural and Medically Underserved Populations)


Seed Awards for Product Development Research

  • Houston and Boston-based Asylia Therapeutics's Jeno Gyuris was granted $3 million for its development of a Novel Approach to Cancer Immunotherapy by Targeting Extracellular Tumor- derived HSP70 to Dendritic Cells
  • Houston-based Barricade Therapeutics Corp.'s Neil Thapar was granted $3 million for its development of a First-In-Class Small Molecule, TASIN, for Targeting Truncated APC Mutations for the Treatment of Colorectal Cancer (CRC)

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Building Houston

 
 

Last month was National Diabetes Awareness Month and Houston-based JDRF Southern
Texas Chapter has some examples of how technology is helping people with type 1 diabetes. Photo courtesy of JDRF

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease where insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas are mistakenly destroyed by the body's immune system. Insulin is vital in controlling blood-sugar or glucose levels. Not only do you need proper blood-sugar levels for day-to-day energy, but when blood-sugar levels get too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia), it can cause serious problems and even death. Because of this, those with T1D are dependent on injections or pumps to survive.

The causes of T1D are not fully known, and there is currently no cure; however, advancing technologies are making it easier to live with T1D.

Monitoring

Those who have had T1D for decades might recall having to pee into a vial and test reagent strips in order to check their blood-sugar levels. Thankfully, this evolved into glucometers, or glucose meters. With a glucometer, those with T1D prick their finger and place a drop on the edge of the test strip, which is connected to the monitor that displays their results. Nowadays, glucometers, much like most T1D tech, can be Bluetooth enabled and sync with a smartphone.

From there, scientists have developed the continuous glucose monitor (CGM) so that those with T1D can monitor their blood sugar 24/7. All you need to do is insert a small sensor under the skin. The sensor then measures glucose levels every few minutes, and that information can then be transmitted to smartphones, computers and even smart watches.

Monitoring blood-sugar levels is vital for those with T1D, particularly because it helps them stay more aware of their body, know what to do and even what to expect, but they also have to actively control those levels by injecting insulin. Think of a monitor as the "check engine" light. It can tell you that there may be a problem, but it won't fix it for you. To fix it, you would need an injection or a pump.

Pumps and artificial pancreas

The development of insulin pumps has made a huge impact on the lives of those with T1D and parents of children with T1D by making it easier to manage their blood-sugar levels. 50 years ago, the prototype of the insulin pump was so large, it had to be a backpack, but with today's technology, it is about the size of a smartphone. The pump is worn on the outside of the body, and it delivers insulin through a tube which is placed under the skin. Insulin pumps mimic the way a pancreas works by sending out small doses of insulin that are short acting. A pump can also be manipulated depending on each person's needs. For example, you can press a button to deliver a dose with meals and snacks, you can remove it or reduce it when active and it can be programmed to deliver more at certain times or suspend delivery if necessary.

One of the most recent and trending developments in T1D research is the artificial pancreas, or more formally referred to as the automated insulin delivery (AID) systems. Essentially, the artificial pancreas is an insulin pump that works with a CGM. The CGM notifies the insulin pump of your blood-sugar reading, which acts accordingly to restore your blood sugar to the target level. The artificial pancreas allows those with T1D to be even more hands off, as it does essentially everything: It continuously monitors blood-sugar levels, calculates how much insulin you would need, which can be done through smart devices, and automatically delivers insulin through the pump.

Living with T1D is a 24/7/365 battle; however, the advances in technology make it easier and safer to live with the disease. Organizations like JDRF play a huge role in investing in research, advocating for government support and more.

November was National Diabetes Awareness Month, and this year is particularly special for JDRF, as it is the 50th year of the organization. JDRF was founded in 1970 by two moms. The community grew to include scientists, lobbyists, celebrities and children—all determined to improve lives and find cures.

Bound by a will stronger than the disease, this year during National Diabetes Awareness Month (NDAM), JDRF celebrates "The Power of Us." We are reflecting on the power of our community and reminding ourselves and the public of how far we've come in the fight against T1D.


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Rick Byrd is the executive director of the JDRF Southern Texas Chapter.

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