Texas cancer institute awards UT researchers roughly $5 million in funding

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Amy Mackenzie | Reproduced with Permission

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas awarded roughly $5 million in grants to several UT researchers to advance scientific understanding of cancer and aid in its prevention.

The institution awarded the grant to researchers from Dell Medical School, the College of Natural Sciences and the Cockrell School of Engineering. With the funding, researchers will advance their projects in cancer research and prevention, which include analyzing different types of cancer and educating people on how to lead a healthier lifestyle.

Chemistry professor Jennifer Brodbelt said she and her colleagues will use the grant to create a state-of-the-art facility for analyzing cancerous cells. Using a technique called mass spectrometry, Brodbelt said they will be able distinguish cancerous cells from normal tissue cells by examining their chemical composition at the molecular level. 

With the new facility, Brodbelt said medical experts will be able to see the signs of cancer much earlier, leading to more personalized treatment in different cancer types and a better understanding of the mechanisms behind cancer progression.

“In this way, we can have a facility that brings in users from all around the University and around even the state of Texas to actively use these new spectrometers and really advance cancer research,” Brodbelt said. “It’s a disease that affects so many of either friends or family, and anything we can do to try to improve the whole process of being diagnosed and treated is something that will touch everyone’s life at some point.”

 

Chris Cutrone, the institute’s senior communications specialist, said one of the main missions of the institute is to fund researchers and medical experts in the field to address what it sees as the state’s top priorities in cancer treatment and prevention. These priorities include the risk of childhood cancer and the epidemic of liver cancer in Hispanic populations in southern Texas, Cutrone said.

“The grantees define the need in the community,” Cutrone said. “We look to decrease the burden of cancer through preventative measures, new diagnostics and treatment and the effective translation of discoveries.”

Michael Pignone, a professor at Dell Medical School’s Department of Internal Medicine, said he wants to use the money to address gaps in cancer prevention in Texas and the rest of the country. He said one of the leading causes of cancer-related death in the country is lung cancer, which causes 150,000 deaths every year. 

Pignone said people with lung cancer are usually in the age range of 55 to 77, spent the last few decades smoking extensively and are often uninsured. He said he hopes encouraging early lung cancer screenings and expanding Medicaid will cut down on yearly deaths of these patients.

“(The grant money) will mainly be implemented in our local community health centers to take care of people who are either uninsured or have other challenges, maybe low income or low education attainment,” Pignone said. “It’s a great opportunity to bring some services to a population that’s in pretty high need.”