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Higgins announces $33.8 million in federal grants to Roswell Park researchers


Wed, May 25th 2016 03:00 pm

Congressman Brian Higgins announced Roswell Park Cancer Institute researchers received eight recent grants totaling $33.8 million in awards from National Institutes of Health agencies to further important work in cancer research.

The grants will fund exploration of new approaches for treating prostate and head and neck cancers, improving response to immunotherapy and radiation, documenting tobacco use, and supporting a software engineering project to analyze genomic data for medical research, among other projects.

Higgins spoke about the grants to Roswell Park and the critical importance of NIH funding in remarks on the House floor:

"These awards are a testament to the strength of the scientific work that Roswell Park teams are pursuing toward the goal of developing better therapies, prevention strategies and diagnostic approaches," said Candace Johnson, Ph.D., Roswell Park president and CEO. "Our researchers have to compete with scientists around the country for these funding opportunities, so to see so many large awards granted to the institute in such a short time is incredibly affirming."

The awards fund five new research projects and renew funding for three projects previously funded by the NIH. Six were funded through prestigious "R01" research project grant or "R21" exploratory/development grant awards.

The Roswell Park researchers and projects awarded funding include:

Andrew Hyland, Ph.D., chair of the department of health behavior, received another nine years of funding from the NIH and U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the ongoing population assessment of tobacco and health (PATH) study, a longstanding effort to document and interpret tobacco use in the U.S. Hyland will continue as principal investigator of the study, conducted by Westat of Rockville, Maryland. Funding to Roswell Park over the term of the contract is expected to total $17.7 million.

Martin Morgan, Ph.D., associate member of the department of biostatistics and bioinformatics, received a five-year, $7.8 million award from the National Human Genome Research Institute to continue development and dissemination of the "Bioconductor Project," an open-source, open-development software system that provides tools for high-throughput analysis and comprehension of genomic data - a resource now based at Roswell Park - that helps researchers summarize the vast volumes of data elicited from decoding cancer tumor DNA and apply it to improve medical care.

Mukund Seshadri, D.D.S., Ph.D., associate professor of oncology in the departments of pharmacology and therapeutics and head and neck surgery, received two R01 research grants to develop novel imaging methods and treatments for oral/head and neck cancers. The first is a five-year, $2.1 million award from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to investigate vitamin D as a safe strategy to enhance targeted chemotherapeutics. The second is a four-year, $1.5 million award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to develop imaging methods to study how radiation affects salivary gland function and identify treatments that minimize or eliminate radiation-induced salivary gland damage and severe dry mouth, which impairs speech, taste and swallowing function, and increases susceptibility to infection.

John Subjeck, Ph.D., professor emeritus of oncology in the department of cell stress biology, received a five-year, $1.6 million R01 award from the NCI to continue his work using large heat-shock proteins to improve cancer therapy.

Dominic Smiraglia, Ph.D., associate professor of oncology in the department of cancer genetics, received a five-year, $1.93 million R01 grant from the NCI for research that will test a new combination therapy intended to prevent prostate cancer recurrence by accentuating a unique metabolic stress in prostate cells while blocking a metabolic pathway that would normally alleviate the stress. 

Leigh Ellis, Ph.D., assistant professor of oncology in the department of pharmacology and therapeutics, received a two-year, $581,378 grant from the NCI for efforts to discover the genetic switches that drive aggressive forms of prostate cancer and identify biomarkers that could determine the aggressive potential of a patient's disease much earlier.

James Mohler, M.D., associate director, senior vice president for translational research and chair of urology, received a two-year, $416,398 award from the NCI to identify a small molecule that can prevent testosterone production by prostate cancer tissue - a key reason why advanced prostate cancer overcomes standard hormonal therapy. A better inhibitor could replace the only FDA-approved drug of this type, abiraterone, which is expensive, poses side effects, and only works for an average of five months.

Last year, Higgins founded the National Institutes of Health caucus, a bipartisan congressional working group committed to increasing NIH funding and supporting biomedical research, co-chaired by Higgins, along with Reps. Rosa DeLauro (CT-3) and Peter King (NY-2). Higgins also introduced the Accelerating Biomedical Research Act (H.R. 531), which would increase the budget for the NIH by more than $50 billion over six years.

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