August 15, 2003

VICC awarded third ‘SPORE’ research grant

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Dr. Carlos Arteaga

VICC awarded third ‘SPORE’ research grant

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center investigators have been awarded a Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in breast cancer, making VICC one of only seven centers in the country with three or more of these highly competitive grants from the National Cancer Institute.

The grant will provide $2.5 million in the first year, with total recommended funding over the five-year period of more than $13 million. The grant recognizes VICC’s researchers for their innovative leadership in the development of new ways to treat and prevent breast cancer.

Vanderbilt-Ingram teams also hold SPOREs in lung and gastrointestinal cancer, each providing $12 million-$13 million in funding over five years.

The NCI began the SPORE program 11 years ago to bridge the gap between the laboratory and the clinic and to foster innovative research with clear potential to make improvements in cancer treatment and prevention. Currently, 55 SPOREs are distributed among 24 institutions, according to the list provided at the recent 11th SPORE Investigators’ Workshop hosted by the NCI.

“To be awarded a SPORE, centers have to be doing research that the NCI believes will really make an impact on the disease,” said Dr. Carlos L. Arteaga, professor of Medicine and Cancer Biology, Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and director of the new SPORE. “It is wonderful to have a seat at the table with the top breast cancer research centers in the country.”

The proposal submitted by Arteaga and his colleagues scored in the highest possible range of “outstanding.” Arteaga noted that this score reflects “the fact that the NCI and peers have very high expectations of us, and we are ready to meet those challenges.”

SPOREs are organized at cancer centers around a specific type of cancer. Each project must involve both basic and clinical scientists, must include a population-based research component, and must focus on translational research. This translational focus includes not only bringing discoveries in the laboratory to the clinical setting for investigation but also bringing clinical phenomena back to the laboratory to understand them and potentially develop novel ways to intervene.

“The SPOREs have been extraordinarily successful at accomplishing just what the Comprehensive Cancer Centers are all about — bringing basic scientists and clinicians together and providing a mechanism that ensures their collaboration,” said Dr. Harold Moses, director of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. Vanderbilt-Ingram is one of 39 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the United States.

SPOREs fund specific scientific projects as well as core resources to be shared by the SPORE investigators. These cores provide sophisticated equipment and expertise vital to the success of the SPOREs. The SPOREs also provide important funding for career development and pilot projects, which are supplemented by matching funds from Vanderbilt Medical Center and Vanderbilt-Ingram.

Each SPORE includes investigators from multiple academic departments and research teams. Vanderbilt-Ingram’s three SPOREs focus on identifying and developing molecular targets for lung, breast and colorectal cancer, which together affect more than a half million Americans each year.

The breast cancer SPORE funding supports four scientific projects and six core facilities.

Project titles, descriptions and lead investigators include:

HER (erbB) tyrosine kinase inhibitors in treatment-naïve, operable breast cancer. One goal of this project is to identify which breast cancers respond to this type of drugs as well as surrogate markers predictive of EGF receptor inactivation in situ. (Arteaga and Dr. Mark Kelley.)

Predictive markers of clinical response to paclitaxel therapy in Stage II/III breast cancer. This project will test the hypothesis evidence of tumor cell arrest in the M phase of the cell cycle predicts response to paclitaxel. This study and the EGFR inhibitor project will use mass spectrometry in pre- and post-therapy biopsies to discover proteins that predict for drug sensitivity and resistance. (Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., and Dr. Bapsi Chak.)

Molecular imaging of breast carcinoma and its therapeutic response. This highly innovative project will use cutting-edge mass spectrometry approaches to analyze protein expression in breast tumors compared to normal tissue, with the aim of identifying protein profiles associated with different disease states as well as response to therapy. (Richard Caprioli, Ph.D., Dr. Roy Jensen and Andrew Link, Ph.D.)

Molecular epidemiology of proliferative breast disease. This project builds on Vanderbilt’s historic strengths and will define the role of the transforming growth factor beta type II receptor and additional components of the TGF beta and EGFR signalling pathways in the development of pre-cancerous lesions of the breast. (William Dupont, Ph.D., Moses, and Dr. David Page.)

Core facilities in the breast SPORE focus on the following areas:

•Administrative and outreach, led by Arteaga and Vali Forrister, the VICC’s associate director for Communication and Outreach;

•Tissue, led by Dr. Jean Simpson;

•Proteomics and emerging technologies, led by David Friedman, Ph.D., and David Hachey, Ph.D.;

•Antibody production and characterization, led by Raymond Mernaugh, Ph.D.

•Biostatistics, led by Yu Shyr, Ph.D.;

•Biomedical Informatics, led by Mary Edgerton, M.D., Ph.D.

The SPORE also provides important career development funding. The first Physician-Scientist Development awardee sponsored by the grant is Dr. Melinda Sanders, assistant professor of Pathology.

Vanderbilt-Ingram’s SPOREs in lung and GI cancers also focus on the center’s strengths in identifying and developing molecular targets to treat and prevent disease, including the cyclooxygenase-2 enzyme and the epidermal growth factor family of receptors.

The lung cancer SPORE is led by Dr. David Carbone; the GI cancer SPORE, by Dr. Robert Coffey. Both are Ingram Professors of Cancer Research.