To grow research and improve the lives of Oklahomans fighting cancer, the Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center has been awarded a competitive renewal of a $10.7 million federal grant.
The five-year grant will strengthen translational research, particularly in the area of treatment-resistant cancers, across the OU Health Sciences Center, the academic partner of OU Medicine.
Primary cancers are often treated successfully, but they frequently return, more aggressively than the initial cancer, and become resistant to various therapies. The program funded by this grant is dedicated to discovering new strategies for treating recurrent cancers, in ways that are personalized to each patient and their cancer. Patients receiving treatment at the Stephenson Cancer Center and other facilities at OU Medicine will benefit from findings that can be translated from the research laboratory to improved care at the patient’s bedside.
“The renewal of competitive grant funding for this program highlights the significant momentum by the Stephenson Cancer Center and researchers across the OU Health Sciences Center,” said Jason Sanders, M.D., MBA, Senior Vice President and Provost of OUHSC and Vice Chair of OU Medicine. “Research distinguishes an academic health system like OU Medicine because new discoveries will enhance and personalize the care that Oklahomans receive for cancer.”
The grant is from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, a component of the National Institutes of Health. It represents the second phase of a COBRE (Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence) grant, which establishes multidisciplinary cancer research in Oklahoma and enables talented researchers to compete for additional federal awards. A major component of the program is mentoring junior researchers, who contribute to better patient treatment with their projects, while building their careers and attracting additional grant funding that helps to drive Oklahoma’s economic growth.
OUHSC received the first phase of the COBRE grant in 2013 and made significant progress in crucial areas of cancer research. Researchers from several of OUHSC’s seven colleges launched investigations that built a solid foundation of new information in a number of cancers. By better understanding the body’s mechanisms at work in treatment resistance, their research provided insight into strategies for circumventing that resistance. Since becoming junior investigators, they have been awarded $1.5 million in additional grants.
“In cancer research today, we have a significant amount of knowledge about the pathways of the body that cancer affects and many of the causes of cancer. But we don’t know as much about the differences between types of cancers and why some people respond differently to treatment. This COBRE grant allows us to address these challenges,” said Danny N. Dhanasekaran, Ph.D., Deputy Director for Basic Cancer Research at the Stephenson Cancer Center and principal investigator for the grant.
In Phase 2 of the COBRE grant, a new group of junior investigators will build on the work of the first phase with a heightened focus on discoveries that can be translated into treatments that will more quickly improve patients’ care and quality of life. Three physician-scientists who are skilled at both patient care and research and one basic science researcher comprise the group, and their investigations will focus on treatment resistance in endometrial cancer, gastrointestinal cancer and glioblastoma.
Each new investigator is mentored by two researchers on campus who are well-established in their careers. Mentors, too, contribute their own research to the COBRE program while guiding junior investigators toward independent careers. At the midway point of the COBRE’s five-year funding, an additional four junior investigators will be brought into the program.
The COBRE grant also allows OUHSC and the Stephenson Cancer Center to acquire new technology and equipment that will benefit cancer investigations. Called “research cores,” the resources include cutting-edge tissue processing, high-sensitivity imaging and other advanced cancer research technologies.
“Because technology in research evolves, establishing these cores allows us to provide the most advanced resources to cancer researchers,” Dhanasekaran said. “In addition, these cores will benefit researchers across OUHSC, who can use the technology in other areas, such as cardiovascular or neurology research.”
The Stephenson Cancer Center has realized significant accomplishments this year, and the COBRE grant enhances its mission. With designation as a National Cancer Institute cancer center, among the top 2 percent in the country, the facility is a place where Oklahomans can receive the best in research-informed cancer care without leaving home. The grant also supports the state’s status as an Institutional Development Award (IDeA) participant, an essential NIH program that builds research capabilities in Oklahoma.
“Many key advances in cancer research have been made by physician-scientists,” said Stephenson Cancer Center Director Robert Mannel, M.D. “The continuation of our NIH COBRE grant will ensure that we have the infrastructure and mentoring teams in place to train a new generation of physician-scientists and researchers in Oklahoma.”