CPRIT awards $16.6 million for cancer research, prevention, and faculty recruitment

ALLAS – May 26, 2015 – The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) has awarded UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers more than $12.6 million in research grants for cancer research and prevention, as well as an additional $4 million for recruiting cancer scientists.

The May awards bring the total awarded by CPRIT to UT Southwestern for cancer research, recruitments, and prevention efforts to nearly $55 million in fiscal year 2015. These grants are among 41 awarded statewide that represent an $89 million investment in the fight against cancer.

"We are deeply grateful for this support from CPRIT and the people of Texas. These grants will fund important and innovative research projects and prevention programs, leading ultimately to improved treatments for cancer patients and more widespread prevention efforts for the population of Texas and beyond," said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern, and holder of the Philip O'Bryan Montgomery Jr., M.D., Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.

New research grants were awarded to four UT Southwestern researchers at the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center as part of CPRIT's High-Impact/High-Risk Research Awards. Prevention grants were awarded to two UT Southwestern programs, one for breast cancer screening and another for colon cancer screening. The colon cancer screening initiative received $4.8 million, the largest prevention grant ever from CPRIT.

"These projects demonstrate the collaborative research efforts we value at the Simmons Cancer Center, and they encourage further discoveries that will help cancer patients," said Dr. James Willson, Associate Dean of Oncology Programs at UT Southwestern, and Professor and Director of the Simmons Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in North Texas and one of just 68 in the country. Dr. Willson holds The Lisa K. Simmons Distinguished Chair in Comprehensive Oncology.


Core Facilities Support Awards - $5.59 million

Bioinformatics Core Facility at UT Southwestern Medical Center – $5,593,882 to Dr. Gaudenz Danuser, Professor of Cell Biology, and holder of the Patrick E. Haggerty Distinguished Chair in Basic Biomedical Science.

This supports the development of UT Southwestern's bioinformatics capability, which involves managing huge data sets that can identify complex patterns in the organization and regulation of molecules, cells, tissues, and organs. Finding these patterns has become an essential component of biomedical discovery and is crucial to understanding the foundations of life and the defects causing disease, including cancer, as well as developing diagnostic approaches and new therapeutic strategies. As bioinformatics has grown in importance in medical science, UT Southwestern's scientific leaders identified the discipline as the area of greatest future need for the continued success of the Medical Center's diverse research missions – noting that information technology will shape every aspect of the next era of research.

High-Impact/High-Risk Research Awards - $800,000

Dynamin GTPase: A Novel Pro-Apoptotic Cancer Therapeutic Target – $200,000 to Dr. Sandra Schmid, Chair, Department of Cell Biology and Professor of Cell Biology, and holder of the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Chair in Cellular and Molecular Biology.

Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, can be triggered by so-called death receptors that kill target cells upon activation by their corresponding ligands. One of these ligands, called TRAIL, selectively kills cancer cells and is being developed as a potential anti-cancer therapeutic. This project stems from the researchers' recent discovery that cancer cells made deficient in the large GTPase dynamin-1 are rendered more sensitive to TRAIL-induced apoptosis. Researchers will identify the mechanism for this increased sensitivity and perform a high-throughput screen for small molecule inhibitors of dynamin-1, as potential therapeutic leads for cancer cell-specific, pro-apoptotic compounds.

Acetate May Be a Key Substrate Driving Growth in Early Stage Breast Cancer in Patients – $200,000 to Dr. Robert Bachoo, Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurotherapeutics, and Internal Medicine, and holder of the Miller Family Professorship in Neuro-Oncology.

These researchers previously have shown that brain tumors, including breast cancer brain metastases, are able to use acetate as a fuel for growth. The current study is designed to determine whether early stage breast cancers can also use acetate for fuel or if this is a property unique to late stage advanced cancers. Findings from this study will help direct therapeutic development of drugs targeting cancer cell metabolism.

Identification of Novel Melanoma Metastasis Driver Genes through Transposon-Mediated Mutagenesis – $200,000 to Dr. Kathryn A. O'Donnell, Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology.

Melanoma is one of the most lethal cancers. Once it spreads to distant organs of the body, in a process called metastasis, the survival of patients drops dramatically. The goal of this grant is to identify new mechanisms that contribute to the ability of melanoma cells to metastasize. If successful, these studies may accelerate the development of new therapies for this deadly disease.

Identifying Inhibitors of Ascl1 to Block Growth of Malignant Neuroendocrine and Neural Tumors – $200,000 to Dr. Jane E. Johnson, Vice Chair and Professor of Neuroscience, and holder of the Shirley and William S. McIntyre Distinguished Chair in Neuroscience.

The goal of this project is to identify inhibitors of a tissue and stage-restricted protein, ASCL1, crucial in tumor growth in multiple malignant tumor types, such as lung neuroendocrine tumors, for which there are no effective long-term treatments available. Targeting ASCL1 and related factors for inhibition provides unexplored therapeutic opportunities to disrupt growth in multiple tumor types that required these factors for cell survival.   


Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members* – $4 million

Maralice Conacci-Sorrell, Ph.D. Recruitment to The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center – $2,000,000.

Andreas Doncic, Ph.D., Recruitment to The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center from Stanford University – $2,000,000.

*Recruitment grants awarded indicate only approval to negotiate offers; at the time of this news release, candidates have not accepted offers.


Competitive Continuation/Expansion Grants - $1.49 million

BSPAN3: Breast Screening and Patient Navigation for Rural and Underserved Women across North Texas – $1,499,993 to Dr. Simon J. Craddock Lee, Assistant Professor of Clinical Sciences, and Population Sciences and Cancer Control.

With prior CPRIT support, this program tested a decentralized regional delivery model to provide breast cancer screening and nurse-driven patient navigation to more than 14,000 under- and uninsured women across 17 rural and underserved counties. With this competitive renewal, UT Southwestern's Moncrief Cancer Institute will further expand access to prevention services into Ellis, Navarro, and Grayson Counties, while sustaining quality metrics that reduce time to clinical resolution and referral to treatment, as needed. BSPAN3 builds on the Institute's existing rural network of more than 40 community organization partners to strengthen grassroots outreach to underinsured women, and to enhance local visibility for participating providers in this rural network.

Evidence-Based Cancer Prevention Services - $4.8 million

The C-SPAN Coalition: Colorectal Screening and Patient Navigation –$4,800,000 to Dr. Keith Argenbright, Director of UT Southwestern's Moncrief Cancer Institute and Associate Professor of Clinical Sciences and the Simmons Cancer Center.

A systematic colorectal screening outreach strategy was developed and tested through two prior CPRIT grants to increase screening completion among uninsured patients not up-to-date with screening at John Peter Smith Health System. This project will transition the current screening program to mail FIT (fecal immunochemical test) screening invitations and provide follow-up to an estimated 95,000 underserved residents in 20 counties. A coalition for colorectal cancer screening and patient navigation (C-SPAN) will be developed by extending the current partnerships already in place with county leadership, hospitals, and health care providers – a large number of whom participate in the UT Southwestern/Moncrief Cancer Institute breast cancer screening programs.

Beginning operations in 2009, CPRIT has, to date, awarded $1.33 billion in grants to Texas researchers, institutions, and organizations. CPRIT provides funding through its academic research, prevention, and product development research programs. Programs made possible with CPRIT funding have reached all 254 counties of the state, brought more than 80 distinguished researchers to Texas, advanced scientific and clinical knowledge, and provided more than two million life-saving education, training, prevention and early detection services to Texans. Learn more atcprit.state.tx.us.

UT Southwestern's Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Centerincludes 13 major cancer care programs with a focus on treating the whole patient with innovative treatments, while fostering groundbreaking basic research that has the potential to improve patient care and prevention of cancer worldwide. In addition, the Center's education and training programs support and develop the next generation of cancer researchers and clinicians.

The Simmons Cancer Center is among only 30 U.S. cancer research centers to be named a National Clinical Trials Network Lead Academic Participating Site, a prestigious new designation by the NCI, and the only cancer center in North Texas to be so designated. The designation and associated funding is designed to bolster the cancer center's clinical cancer research for adults and to provide patients access to cancer research trials sponsored by the NCI, where promising new drugs often are tested. 

About UT Southwestern Medical Center
UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution's faculty includes many distinguished members, including six who have been awarded Nobel Prizes since 1985. The faculty of more than 2,700 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide medical care in 40 specialties to about 92,000 hospitalized patients and oversee approximately 2.1 million outpatient visits a year.