2004 Spring Research Awardees

The CRPF board approved funding of more than $400,000 in the Foundation’s latest round of grants and fellowships. Six innovative cancer prevention and early detection research proposals received support, representing investigations about cervical, colorectal, esophageal, lung and prostate cancers.

Hildegund Ertl, M.D.
Fellow: Marcio Olivera Lasaro, Ph.D.

The Wistar Institute

Cervical cancer remains the second most common cancer in women worldwide. Most cases are the result of human papilloma virus (HPV). Dr. Ertl is hoping to develop a vaccine to protect women from HPV. He has constructed two different vaccines that contain various antigens— proteins that appear to contribute to the HPV’s ability to transform cells of the cervix— and should enhance the body’s ability to fight the virus. He will test his theory by giving mice one vaccine and then the second a few weeks later. Then he will give them a combination of the two and test the immune response. Ultimately, Dr. Ertl hopes that by immunizing the mice with his vaccine, he will reduce the incidence of cancer

James G. Fujimoto, Ph.D.
Fellow: Yu Chen, Ph.D.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Esophageal cancer is among the most deadly cancers. Today the only way to detect the disease is by using an endoscope, a thin, flexible tube that is inserted through the mouth into the esophagus for visual inspection. But most cancer isn’t visible with the endoscope, so tissue samples have to be taken for microscopic examination. This is time consuming, can lead to errors and undetected cancer. In this study, Drs. Fujimoto and Chen will test a new optical imaging technology called OCT. It uses an endoscope to introduce laser light to the esophagus. The light in conjunction with sound waves makes it possible to visualize microscopic structures under the tissue surface. Then two-dimensional cross-sectional images are created in real time. No biopsy is needed. They will test the technology on both cancerous and benign tissue to improve its sensitivity and accuracy, in order to develop a better early detection tool for esophageal cancer.

Joel B. Mason, M.D.
Fellow: Jimmy W. Crott, Ph.D.

Tufts University

Previous research has shown that people who eat large amounts of folate have a 30 to 40 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer than people who eat smaller amounts. Folate is found in green leafy vegetables, dry beans and peas and fortified cereals, and appears to prevent damage to DNA. Low folate intake appears to damage genetic material, increasing the risk for cancer. By studying human colon cells, Drs. Mason and Crott hope to better understand how low folate intake damages DNA. Understanding these mechanisms will help scientists identify people at risk for CRC and develop prevention strategies.

Brooks M. Hybertson, Ph.D.
Webb-Waring Institute for Cancer, Aging and Antioxidant Research

Lung cancer remains the largest cancer-killer in the US. It is often hard to diagnose early and most often is in an advanced stage before it is found, making it difficult to treat. Dr. Hybertson is testing one chemoprevention agent that may be able to prevent, inhibit, or reverse the lung cancer before it starts. One chemical, tocopheryl succinate, has been shown to kill lung cancer cells and many other kinds of cancer cells, but not normal cells. But it loses its anticancer properties when it is eaten and digested. Dr. Hybertson has developed a way to inhale the chemical directly into the lungs, with a device much like an asthma inhaler. He will study its effects in mice that are given a chemical carcinogen that causes lung cancer. If tocopheryl succinate is protective in mice, future experiments will examine its effect on human patients.

Yi Lu, Ph.D.
The University of Tennesee Health Science Center

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in American men. Dr. Lu believes that diet plays a large role in prostate cancer and, specifically, that cholesterol, found in red meat and dietary fat, promotes prostate cancer formation and progression by enhancing prostate cancer cell survival. His theory suggests that cholesterol helps protect cancer cells from apoptosis — a type of cell suicide that kills off damaged cells that may become cancerous. Without normal apoptosis, diseased prostate cells to continue growing and eventually become prostate cancer, and form metastases in distant organs. On the other hand, plant foods such as nuts, cereals and soy products, promote apoptosis in cancer cells. Dr. Lu’s study hopes to clarify the role of cholesterol in promoting prostate cancer and it effects on proteins in the cells. He will determine the anti-cancer effects of plant foods on prostate cancer in both culture dishes and animal models, information that could lead to simple dietary prostate cancer prevention

Andrew Strasser, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania

Cigarette smoking is the major cause of lung cancer in the US. Although people understand the risk, they have a difficult time quitting smoking because tobacco contains nicotine, an addictive drug. A new tobacco product has been introduced which is marketed as a means to becoming nicotine-free by tapering the amount of nicotine delivered in each cigarette. This product is available in three levels of nicotine. Research suggests that smokers compensate when smoking lower nicotine cigarettes by puffing larger volumes more frequently. Dr. Strasser is hoping to validate this theory and show that the health implications —a product that is being marketed as a harm reduction product may in truth increase harm and carcinogen exposure.