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$10 Million Grant Advances Fight Against Cancer

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CONTACT: OU Public Affairs, (405) 325-1701

Oklahoma City - A $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will enable researchers at the Peggy and Charles Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma to look for answers to a critical problem in cancer therapy – why some cancer cells become resistant to chemo and radiation therapy, and what can be done to overcome that resistance.

The Center of Biomedical Research Excellence grant will augment and strengthen research at the Stephenson Cancer Center by establishing a mentoring program for promising new cancer researchers and enhancing the research infrastructure at the cancer center.

“This important grant is evidence that the Stephenson Cancer Center at OU is rapidly becoming recognized as a center of excellence in cancer research and treatment,” said OU President David L. Boren.

“This is a substantial and important grant that further enhances our mission to defeat cancer through research and advanced care,” said Robert Mannel, M.D., director of the Stephenson Cancer Center. “The CoBRE grant creates a powerful synergy of effort. It pairs experienced senior researchers as mentors and talented junior researchers with promising new ideas. Together, they will work to advance research aimed at the development of new treatments and technologies, and ultimately a cure for cancer.”

The grant’s Principal Investigator is Danny Dhanasekaran, PhD, Deputy Director for Basic Research at the Stephenson Cancer Center and professor of Cell Biology at the OU College of Medicine. He will lead the team of investigators as they aim to develop novel treatment strategies for cancer resistance. Cancer resistance often becomes acute after an initially successful cancer treatment.

"All too often, the cancer comes back, and when it does, it is usually in a more resistant form. If you have a thousand cancer cells, every ten cells will become resistant. The ten cells become hundreds. Hundreds become thousands and thousands become ten thousands," said Dhanasekaran, who holds the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation Endowed Chair in Cancer Research.

When the returning cancer becomes resistant, treatment options are limited. The CoBRE grant will fund research at the Cancer Center aimed at determining why cancer cells become resistant.

"If we understand the mechanisms of the resistance, then we can develop strategies to prevent it,” Dhanasekaran said.

Through the CoBRE grant, experienced researchers will mentor Junior Promising Investigators at the Cancer Center as together they focus on four projects designed to discover the resistance mechanisms in four types of cancer: breast, lung, prostate, and brain.

CoBRE grants are awarded by the NIH in an effort to augment and strengthen research. The grants allow bright, new researchers to advance their work under the guidance and mentorship of experienced, senior researchers in the field.

In addition to overseeing the success of the overall CoBRE grant, Dr. Dhanasekaran also will serve as mentor on the project that targets drug resistance in prostate cancer treatment. Dhanasekaran likens the problem to a driver traveling to the airport.

"When you go to the airport, and there is a roadblock, what do you do? You take the side road," he said.

Similarly, the returning, resistant cancer cells look for "the alternate route" to spread. The researchers will look for strategies to block the “side roads” or multiple pathways so that cancer cells cannot escape.

Initially, Cancer Center researchers will analyze mechanisms of resistance using samples obtained from human cancer tissues. However, Dhanasekaran hopes the work will lead to additional laboratory research and clinical trials in the future.

Dhanasekaran predicts the grant, the research and the resulting technologies will be extremely beneficial as the Stephenson Cancer Center continues its work to advance the fight against cancer in an effort to provide new hope, new treatments and ultimately a cure for those with cancer in Oklahoma and throughout the world.

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