Grants Totaling $400,000 Support Research on Cancer and Neurodegenerative Diseases
Four researchers at the University of Houston’s Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling received grants from the William and Ella Owens Medical Research Foundation.
The one-year project awards are for $100,000 each and support the research of Shaun Xiaoliu Zhang, Jan-Åke Gustafsson, Chin-Yo Lin and Daniel Frigo.
“We are grateful to Mr. Owens and the William and Ella Owens Medical Research Foundation for their continuous support for the research conducted at our Center,” said Zhang, director of the Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling. “These grants will play a vital role in our mission to find a cure for several malignant diseases that currently have a poor prognosis, including pancreatic cancer, brain tumors, breast cancer, and prostate cancer, as well as on our effort to understand the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases.”
The Owens Medical Research Foundation, created in 1998, supports original research on the cause, treatment or prevention of human diseases and disorders. The foundation’s support includes basic research, applied research and clinical trials.
“Arming Cancer-Fighting T Cells with the Ability to Handle the Hypoxic Tumor Microenvironment”
Shaun Xiaoliu Zhang, M.D., Ph.D.
Dr. Zhang’s project is to develop a strategy to enhance T-cell based immunotherapy for cancer treatment. Specifically, his group plans to arm the tumor-fighting T cells with the ability to survive in the hypoxic tumor microenvironment (i.e., lack of oxygen due to enormous amount of oxygen being consumed by malignant cells).
“LXRß - A New Player in the Arena of Neurodegeneration”
Jan-Åke Gustafsson, M.D., Ph.D.
LXRβ (liver X receptor beta) is a member of the nuclear receptor supergene family of ligand-activated transcription factors. The receptor was discovered in 1995. Most recent studies by Dr. Gustafsson’s group have indicated that this gene may play a role in age-related progressive neurodegeneration. They plan to use the funds from the William and Ella Owens Medical Research Foundation to investigate the potential role of LXRβ in neuroprotection and to explore its possible application in preventing early onset degenerative changes in the brain.
“Novel Liver X Receptor Ligands for Cancer Research and Therapeutics”
Chin-Yo Lin, Ph.D.
Dr. Lin studies the potential role of LXRβ on cancer. He and his group have shown that LXRβ is expressed in pancreatic cancer cells, and activation of LXRβ by a synthetic ligand can block cancer cell proliferation and tumor formation. He plans to use the funds from the William and Ella Owens Medical Research Foundation to screen for more specific LXRβ ligands for interrogating receptor functions in basic research and for modulating LXRβ activity in clinical applications.
“Creation of a Novel, Flexible T Cell Therapy to Overcome the Immunosuppressive Tumor Microenvironment”
Daniel Frigo, Ph.D.
Dr. Frigo’s research interest is focused on prostate cancer. He plans to use the funds from the foundation to develop a strategy to enhance CAR-T therapy for this malignant disease. He plans to test a variety of approaches to change the tumor microenvironment so that this therapy can be more effective. Specifically, he plans to change the tumor microenvironment through 1) reprogramming its cellular metabolism and 2) conjugating drug-loaded lipid nanoparticles to its cell surface. The goal of this project is to test the efficacy of this new therapy in vitro and in vivo. He anticipates this approach will create a simple and flexible strategy to maximize the efficacy of anti-cancer therapies while minimizing their systemic side effects.