2005 Spring Awardees

2005 Spring Awardees

The CRPF Board of Directors voted to fund ten new grants and fellowships in June, providing $700,000 in support to researchers at nine medical centers in the United States. The investigations include research in the early detection and prevention of lung, breast, prostate, oral, stomach and colon cancer.

Deborah Marshall, Ph.D., MHSA
McMaster University

CT-scans are today regarded as the most promising technology for the early detection of lung cancer, which has been hard to detect early and is frequently fatal.  Despite recent research about the effectiveness of this tool, we don’t yet know if widespread use of the technique will result in reducing the number of people who die each year from lung cancer.  Dr. Marshall hopes to develop a model for the use of early lung cancer detection. This will help health care policymakers and clinicians better understand the clinical and economic implications of different approaches to lung cancer screening. The overall goal is to provide guidance on the use of CT as a screening tool based on the best evidence and analytical methods available.

Alvin Wee, D.D.S., M.S. (Fellow)
Barbara Andersen, Ph.D.
The Ohio State University Research Foundation

Oral cancer is the sixth most common cancer worldwide and is frequently diagnosed at a late stage when survival rates are poor. Drs. Wee and Andersen hope to increase survival rates through screening for earlier diagnosis.  They are studying groups of patients diagnosed with oral cancer — one group who received late diagnoses and one group whose cancer was diagnosed early. Through interviews, the researchers will examine the patients’ psychological and socioeconomic status, risk/health behavior factors, understanding of symptoms and their access to health care services.  Analysis of this information may help identify variables that relate to when a person is diagnosed.  This information can be used in public awareness campaigns and education of health care professionals to help identify and screen individuals who may be at risk for developing oral cancer.

Sujit Basu, M.D., Ph.D.
Mayo Clinic Rochester

Approximately 22,000 new cases of stomach cancer were estimated to be diagnosed in 2005 — and nearly half of those diagnosed will die from the disease.  It is often diagnosed in later stages and there are few effective treatments.  Identifying people at a high risk for stomach cancer would greatly help to reduce these sad statistics. Dr. Basu is studying the role of dopamine in the prevention of stomach cancer. His previous research showed that dopamine isn’t present in stomach cancer tissue and treatment with dopamine retards the growth of a human stomach cancer grown in nude mice.  In this phase of research, Dr. Basu hopes to clarify dopamine’s relationship with the pre-cancerous stages of stomach cancer and better understand how it may inhibit the development of the disease — knowledge that may help identify high risk individuals.

Caroline Craig, Ph.D.
The Regents of the University of California, San Diego

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States.  Despite the fact that smoking and cancer risk have been linked for more than fifty years, fewer than two percent of smokers quit each year, largely because nicotine is addictive. We know that repeated exposure to nicotine causes long-term changes in the brain, but we don’t yet know how this happens. In this study, researchers are examining genes which govern changes in brain cell activity during the development of addiction. They hope to offer insights into the process of nicotine addiction, which may ultimately lead to better interventions for tobacco users.

Yuliya Dobrydneva, Ph.D.
Eastern Virginia Medical School

Tamoxifen is the most widely used drug for prevention of breast cancer. However, women taking tamoxifen have a high risk for thrombosis, especially deep vein thrombosis, which can be severe and life-threatening. Although it affects millions of women, the reason for the higher occurrence of thrombosis has not yet been established. In this research, Dr. Dobrydneva is investigating the cellular mechanism of tamoxifen-induced thrombosis. Preliminary data suggest that tamoxifen activates calcium and formation of blood clots.  Dr. Dobrydneva is hoping to better understand how and why this occurs — and develop ways to prevent it.

Ruben Gonzalez, Ph.D.
Boston Biomedical Research Institute

Increased levels of leptin (a human protein related to obesity and reproduction) occur in women who are obese and those who are experiencing menopause. It increases the risk for developing breast cancer and metastasis, as well as lowers survival. There is evidence that indicates that breast cancer may be prevented by blocking the action of the protein.  In this research, Dr. Gonzalez  is testing compounds called Leptin Peptide Antagonists (LPAs) to inhibit leptin, as well as the development of mammary cancer cells in cultures. This is the first time leptin has been targeted for breast cancer prevention. The investigation could generate novel ways to prevent breast cancer, especially in obese and menopausal women.

Milind Suraokar, Ph.D. (Fellow)
David Menter, Ph.D.

University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

Drs. Suraokar and Menter are researching the role of dietary fat intake in the prevention of prostate cancer. They are combining biotechnology with bioluminescent to determine the role of fat metabolism in the disease.  Using an innovative technique that harnesses molecules of the Sea Pansy, a bioluminescent soft coral plant, and RNA molecules, the researchers are studying the effect of fats on the tissue of tumors implanted under the skin of nude mice. The cells that are treated with the luminescence from the Sea Pansy glow brightly enough to be detected by a highly sensitive camera.  This research will help us better understand the role of dietary fat in prostate cancer — information that may lead to prevention strategies.

Janet Thomas, Ph.D.
University of Kansas Medical Center Research Institute, Inc.

Dr. Thomas is investigating an innovative approach to reducing in-home environmental tobacco smoke and motivating smokers to quit. She is recruiting adult nonsmokers who live with smokers and training them to promote smoking behavior change. The project is being conducted with urban, African Americans — an underserved group at high risk for tobacco-related cancer death. The non-smokers will be enrolled in focus groups and results from these discussions will help in the development of a training program. Two different techniques of support will be compared and findings from this initial study will be used to design a larger future investigation.

Larry Dent, Pharm.D.
The University of Montana

Dr. Dent is conducting the first randomized controlled trial testing the effectiveness of pharmacists in conducting smoking cessation programs. Smokers referred by physicians to one Veterans Health Administration outpatient clinic will be randomly assigned to one of two programs. One will be led by a pharmacist and include three group sessions delivered over five weeks, and the other will consist of one to three, five minute sessions to include all the components of a standard, but brief, clinical intervention. Participants in both programs will receive one medication of their choice (nicotine patch or bupropion) at no-cost.

Ultimately, Dr. Dent envisions that the intervention, if effective, could be disseminated to many of the 200,000 pharmacists in the U.S., including the 5,400 pharmacists in the Veterans Health Administration system.