|Summer 2010-Research, Recovery, Reinvestment|
A silver lining indeed: America’s economic crisis has made a major contribution to the fight against cancer. When the United States Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), it helped create new jobs and enable the construction or repair of public works such as roads and bridges. But the stimulus package also has impacted another vital area of the economy—scientific research.
Nearly $9 billion of ARRA funds are directed to supporting scientific research, and as a national leader in the field, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center has benefited from these available dollars. The Cancer Center has received nearly $12 million in ARRA funds, which are being used to jumpstart new research and supplement crucial existing programs.
“It’s a very exciting time for cancer research,” says Edward Partridge, M.D., Cancer Center director. “Federal funding for research has been so difficult to receive in recent years that these ARRA dollars are a much-needed boost to our efforts.” Here are a few highlights of the Cancer Center’s stimulus-funded studies:
“GO-ing Forward”—This research study aims to develop a comprehensive, multisystem model to understand the causes of the social determinants of health (SDH)—the economic and social factors that shape a person’s health—and their relation to health disparities. The two-year project will establish a diverse coalition of policymakers, community members, academic investigators and representatives from the areas of economic development, business, education, labor, housing, transportation, environment and health care to identify gaps and develop measurement methods for health inequities, outcomes, SDH and the consequences of poor health. Led by principal investigators Mona Fouad, Ph.D., and Isabel Scarinci, Ph.D., the initiative will target Birmingham and Selma, Alabama—urban and rural environments with high proportions of low-income African Americans who suffer from higher mortality and morbidity rates of major health conditions.
Chlorotoxin—Stimulus funds are supplementing some of the research being conducted through the Cancer Center’s SPORE (Specialized Program of Research Excellence) grant in brain cancer—particularly studies focusing on gliomas, the most deadly type of brain tumor. One notable project, led by Harald Sontheimer, Ph.D., involves chlorotoxin, a poison found in the stinger of the giant Israeli scorpion. Dr. Sontheimer has found that this chlorotoxin inhibits the channels in the brain through which glioma cells travel. Patients who took just six doses of the chlorotoxin experienced a median survival of 12.1 months compared to just 4.3 months in a group of patients who did not take the drug. Currently the Cancer Center is leading a national phase-3 clinical trial of the chlorotoxin.
Immunity Boost—Another research project targeting brain cancer proposes that the human body’s natural defense system can be enhanced and made into a more effective weapon in destroying glioma cells. The initiative is led by Lawrence Lamb, Ph.D., who has found a way to “partner” the immune system with therapeutics designed to attack cytomegalovirus in the proteins that sit on the surface of glioma cells.
Genetic Exploration—With ARRA support, the Cancer Center and HudsonAlpha Institute in Huntsville are solidifying a partnership to strengthen the scientific efforts of both institutions. A nationally recognized leader in cancer research, HudsonAlpha is a National Cancer Institute-funded contributor to the Cancer Genome Atlas; its work helps to provide genomic data on all known human cancers to scientific investigators across the country, which could in turn reveal new clues about treatment breakthroughs. Through the partnership, key members of the HudsonAlpha team hold adjunct faculty positions within the UAB Department of Genetics and are members of the Cancer Center. In addition, HudsonAlpha’s Shawn Levy, Ph.D., will direct a new shared facility, the Comprehensive Genomics Core, which will be supported by the Cancer Center.