August 30, 2002

Kresge awards $500,000 to VICC

Kresge awards $500,000 to VICC

The Kresge Foundation has awarded a $500,000 “Science Initiative” challenge grant to the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center to support the purchase of pioneering equipment to advance proteomics research, which is essential to the development of new targeted therapies for cancer and other diseases.

Now that much of the Human Genome has been sequenced, proteomics is the next frontier in research to understand how our bodies work at an even more intricate level. In many ways, the way our bodies operate can be likened to a complex ballroom dance, with hundreds of thousands of dancers entering and exiting the floor and changing partners as the dance proceeds.

The dancers are proteins, made at the instruction of genes. These proteins carry out all the work of the cells, and they are or will be the target for many drugs. Understanding this complex interplay of proteins will be critical to understanding how our bodies function and develop in health, what goes wrong in sickness, and how to change the dance to treat disease or improve health and well-being.

“We’re studying every aspect of the proteins in cells — their structure, their function, their interaction with other proteins,” said Richard M. Caprioli, Ph.D., Stanley Cohen Professor of Biochemistry and director of the new Proteomics Core Facility.

“As human beings, nearly all of our DNA is the same. It’s the complex structure and changes in levels of proteins and their interaction with each another at a given time that makes us different. Trying to understand all of that is like working a million-piece jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box to guide us.”

Many scientists believe that the promise of future cancer therapy lies in the ability to precisely target specific proteins that are involved in the development of the disease.

“The hope is that someday we’ll diagnose and treat patients according to what cancer-related proteins are driving their tumors. Then we’ll be able to tailor therapies to those proteins and block the processes that are causing those cancers to grow and spread,” said Dr. Mace Rothenberg, Ingram Associate Professor of Cancer Research and director of Phase I Drug Development for the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

Proteomics uses a variety of sophisticated technologies, including mass spectrometry, to study the proteins expressed in a cell at a given time. This complexity requires a variety of instruments to separate, measure and analyze proteins, as well as super computing power to make sense of the mountains of data that can be collected, Caprioli said. Up-to-date and well-maintained technology is critical.

Initial costs for the Proteomics Core Facility will total more than $2 million. Of that, $750,000 will be used to purchase equipment, with the rest going into an endowment to fund ongoing operations.

That’s where The Kresge Foundation grant comes into play.

The challenge grant includes an initial gift of $250,000, which has been combined with funding from the T.J. Martell Foundation, the Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation and the National Institutes of Health to purchase an Applied Biosystems MALDI-”time of flight” mass spectrometer. “This is the most powerful instrument we have now to measure proteins that are functional in a cell,” Caprioli said.

An additional $250,000 from The Kresge Foundation, plus an additional $250,000 from an anonymous donor, will be given for the endowment, provided another $1 million is raised from other donors for this purpose by June 30, 2003.

Sebastian S. Kresge created The Kresge Foundation, an independent, private foundation, in 1924 “to promote the well-being of mankind.” Its Science Initiative is a challenge grant program that requires the receiving organization to raise funds for equipment and endowment. The endowment then provides income dedicated to maintenance and replacement of scientific equipment to enable the organization to keep pace with changing technologies. Since the program was initiated in 1988, The Kresge Foundation has awarded 125 Science Initiative grants totaling $44.7 million.

Anyone interested in more information about the Kresge Science Initiative Challenge Grant should contact the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center’s development office at 936-0233.