Fred Hutch Launches APOLLO Network for the Cancer Moonshot Initiative, University of Arizona to Study Firefighters’ Long-Term Cancer Risk, and more

Fred Hutchinson Researchers to Assess Protein Assays for the Cancer Moonshot Initiative

As part of the Cancer Moonshot initiative, the APOLLO (Applied Proteogenomics Organizational Learning and Outcomes) Network – a partnership of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – selected the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s Paulovich Laboratory to develop protein panel tests that could match patients to the most effective drugs to treat their cancers.

“Genomic profiles alone, while advancing our ability to predict cancer responses to therapy, cannot in many cases provide sufficient information to determine which types of cancers respond best to which therapeutics,” said Amanda Paulovich, MD, PhD, a member of the Clinical Research Division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and a professor in the Department of Medicine/Division of Oncology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “There’s a growing appreciation of the value of proteomic approaches to studying cancer and how they are complementary to genomic approaches.”

The team at the Paulovich Laboratory has pioneered targeted, reproducible proteomic assays that improve upon traditional laboratory methods for measuring proteins. These assays are built on multiple reaction-monitoring mass spectrometry, which is widely used in clinical chemistry for measuring metabolites.

“With APOLLO, we believe that by merging our grasp of the genome with a better understanding of its connection to the proteome, or proteogenomics, scientists will have the knowledge, including new regimens and better tools, to assemble the puzzle of precision-based medicine and its translation toward patient care,” said Henry Rodriguez, PhD, MBA, director of the NCI’s Office of Cancer Clinical Proteomics Research.

Source: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center press release, February 6, 2017.

NHLBI’s Division of Blood Diseases and Resources Highlights Award Rates

The Division of Blood Diseases and Resources (DBDR) within the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) released award rates for applications to its most common training and research project grant funding opportunities.

The DBDR report includes data from institutional and individual training awards and investigator-initiated research project grants for new and established blood science investigators submitted between October 2015 and October 2016. For each type of funding mechanism, the following percentage of applications were funded:

  • Research Career Development Awards: 50%
  • Individual Research Fellowship Awards: 48%
  • Institutional Training Grants: 24%
  • research project grants for new and established blood science investigators (all R01 awards): 27%
  • R01 grants for early-stage investigators: 35%

In addition, the DBDR funded 75 percent of applications for the NHLBI R56 Bridge Award, which provides limited, interim research support to investigator-initiated projects. According to information from fiscal year 2014, 93 percent of R56 awardees went on to apply for R01 funding, with 77 percent receiving it.

“In light of these encouraging data about NHLBI success rates among grant applicants, we hope that additional hematologic scientists and other investigators entertaining blood science research will seize this timely opportunity to apply for research funding and become a part of the national blood research enterprise,” the institute wrote.

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute news release, January 25, 2017.

NIH Provides $2 Million Grant to Study Portable Monitor for Sickle Cell Disease
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University were awarded a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop and test a small, portable blood-adhesion monitor for sickle cell disease (SCD). The researchers’ goal is to make this device as useful for patients with SCD as at-home insulin monitors are for patients with diabetes.

Early versions of the monitor have proved capable of determining the “stickiness” of cells, but “we don’t know if this information will make a difference in patients’ lives or in how the disease is managed,” said Umut Gurkan, PhD, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and project leader. Dr. Gurkan and researchers believe the stickiness of a patient’s blood cells reflects disease severity and may be used to predict vaso-occlusive crises. If an early symptom of crisis can be identified, strategies can be developed to prevent vaso-occlusive episodes.

The device may also be useful in monitoring new SCD drugs designed to either block adhesive proteins on blood-cell surfaces or resolve clogs that block blood vessels and starve joints and organs of oxygen. Researchers plan to test prototype monitors on patients in Cleveland, Ohio, and New York City this year.

Source: Case Western Reserve University news release, February 7, 2017.

Thomas Gajewski Receives Outstanding Investigator Award from the NCI

Thomas Gajewski, MD, PhD, of the Department of Medicine and the Ben May Department for Cancer Research at the University of Chicago and director of the immunology and cancer program at the University of Chicago Medicine, was presented with an Outstanding Investigator Award by the NCI. The award supports scientists who demonstrate remarkable productivity in cancer research. As part of the award, Dr. Gajewski will receive $600,000 per year for seven years to support his research in immunotherapy.

Dr. Gajewski’s research team studies new ways to overcome a tumor’s ability to resist immunotherapy, with a focus on drugs that help the immune system – especially T cells – gain access to tumor sites. Other research will examine the connections between gut microbiota and the immune system’s response to cancer.

Source: University of Chicago news release, February 3, 2017.

Researchers at UC San Diego Receive More Than $4 Million in Funding to Study Cancer and Zika Virus

The Independent Citizens Oversight Committee of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine granted two $2.1 million awards to researchers at the University of California (UC) San Diego School of Medicine to advance studies of new treatment options for Zika virus and the use of stem cell-derived natural killer (NK) cells to target several types of cancers.

First, Alysson R. Muotri, PhD, from the Departments of Pediatrics and Cellular and Molecular Medicine and director of the UC San Diego Stem Cell Program, and colleagues will use grant funding to investigate antiviral drugs developed for other infectious diseases that might also work against Zika infection. The team already has reported promising results, suggesting that some U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs may indeed be effective against the virus.

Next, Dan Kaufman, MD, PhD, director of cell therapy at UC San Diego School of Medicine’s Division of Regenerative Medicine, and researchers will use the grant to develop immunotherapy using NK cells to treat refractory or resistant tumors, as well as leukemia. Dr. Kaufman’s laboratory has developed a process to produce NK cells from induced human pluripotent stem cells.

Source: University of California San Diego press release, January 20, 2017.

University of Arizona Receives $1.5 Million Grant to Study Firefighters’ Long-Term Cancer Risk

Researchers at the University of Arizona’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health received $1.5 million in funding from the Department of Homeland Security Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program – a collaborative project to study long-term cancer risk in firefighters.

Cancer is a leading cause of death among firefighters as a result of exposure to carcinogens through inhalation of smoke, diesel exhaust, and other chemical gases, vapors, and particulates, as well as through skin contamination.

“We still don’t understand which exposures are the most important and the specific cellular mechanisms by which the exposures are causing cancer,” said Jefferey L. Burgess, MD, MS, MPH, associate dean for research and professor at the University of Arizona. “This information is necessary to determine the best ways to help prevent cancer in firefighters.”

The initial three-year grant will help build on recent studies of cancer prevention in firefighters being conducted in Arizona and Florida. For this prospective study, the researchers will collect blood from firefighters and look for changes in epigenetic markers that can lead to cancer. The study also will include a survey regarding the number of fires respondents have fought, as well as diet and family history. A control group matched for age, sex, race, and ethnicity will also be included.

The researchers hope to gain additional funding to continue the study for more than 30 years.

Source: University of Arizona news release, December 6, 2016.