funding the future

3 Houston cancer-focused research projects receive seed grants from new innovative initiative

Rice University's SynthX Center, a collaborative lab focused on cancer treatments, named its inaugural seed grant recipients. Photo via Getty Images

Three groundbreaking projects have just received seed grants from a new Houston-based source.

This spring, Rice University launched its Synthesis X Center with the goal of fostering the growth of cancer technologies and medications. Now, the SynthX, as it is known, and Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center have announced joint awards of grants to promising teams, all of which have principals at either Rice or Baylor.

The teams include:

  • A project from Drs. Pabel Miah of Baylor and Lei Li of Rice that involves the development and optimization of high-resolution imaging technology that’s intended for use in removing breast cancer from patients. The researchers combine ultrasound with photoacoustic technology to produce real-time imaging that allows surgeons to spot hard-to-locate tumors. This could reduce or eliminate tumor localization procedures which are invasive and costly.
  • A leukemia treatment profiting from molecular jackhammers, a type of molecule invented in the Rice University lab of Dr. James Tour. He’s joined in the project by Drs. Xin Li and Yongcheng Song, both of Baylor. Molecular jackhammers vibrate more than a trillion times per second when activated by a specific light frequency. Doing this can kill nearby cancer cells. The new treatment is intended to disrupt the activity of a transcription protein called ENL that helps fuel the growth of leukemia cells in several acute forms of the disease.
  • A project that could discover how to inspire cancer cells to kill themselves, using a cancer-associated enzyme called lysine demethylase 4A. Baylor’s Dr. Ruhee Dere and Rice’s Dr. Anna Karin-Gustavsson are studying the KDM4A with the process of apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in mind for the aberrant cells.

The seed grants are managed by Rice’s office for Educational and Research Initiatives for Collaborative Health (ENRICH). Each of the three grants is intended to last two years and includes funds of up to $80,000.

The goal is to allow research teams to collect preliminary data that can be used to apply for more substantial grants from bodies like the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) or the National Institute of Health (NIH).

Three quarters of the funds will be provided in the first year. Teams that produce grant submissions with multiple principal investigators in that first year will be eligible to collect the additional quarter.

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