Three promising City of Hope physician scientists have been named as 2010 Paul Calabresi scholars, earning them critical research funding from the National Cancer Institute.
Saro Armenian, D.O., M.P.H., Rahul Jandial, M.D., Ph.D., and Sumanta Pal, M.D., were selected for the award program, beginning Jan. 1. They will focus on topics including reducing serious side effects of pediatric cancer treatment, preventing recurrence of brain cancer and investigating a new target for kidney cancer therapy.
|From left, Saro Armenian, Sumanta Pal, Rahul Jandial and Robert Figlin (Photo by p.cunningham)|
The Paul Calabresi Career Development Award for Clinical Oncology program, known as a K12 grant, supports clinical researchers transitioning to their own full-fledged scientific careers. Physicians within the first five years of their initial faculty appointment are eligible.
“The K12 gives investigators the opportunity to accelerate science to the clinic,” said Robert Figlin, M.D., chair of the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research and principal investigator on the grant. “These investigators were chosen because of their record of accomplishment, the strength of their research proposals and their mentors and their ability to compete for independent funding over the coming years.”
The trio joins fellow Calabresi scholars Mike Chen, M.D., Ph.D., and Karen Reckamp, M.D., as part of City of Hope’s Clinical Oncology Research Career Development Program. Through the program, young surgeons, radiation oncologists, pathologists, pediatricians and internists who have completed a fellowship in oncology receive training in research techniques and mentoring from senior faculty members.
The program’s four years of study include protected time for work in biostatistics, clinical investigation, basic science and laboratory research, including instruction in scientific writing, biomedical tools and resources and clinical pharmacology. The grant provides each researcher up to $110,000 in salary support, lab and research supplies and travel funds per year.
Researchers will focus on these topics:
Reducing risk of heart failure in childhood cancer survivors
Far more children than ever survive pediatric cancers, thanks to powerful therapies. Unfortunately, treatments leave children at high risk for other health problems later: more than 40 percent of these survivors have severe chronic health conditions.
Cardiovascular conditions, such as congestive heart failure, are a particularly difficult challenge for long-term survivors.
Armenian, assistant professor in the Department of Population Sciences, aims to test a therapy that might reverse early heart damage in children who received high doses of common medications called anthracyclines. Leading a study and collaborating with four other institutions, Armenian will evaluate a drug called carvedilol now used for high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems in adults.
A new target for tackling kidney cancer
City of Hope scientists and colleagues have shown that modern targeted therapies such as sunitinib attack kidney cancer partly by inhibiting a protein called STAT3. This protein helps cancer develop and grow.
Pal, assistant professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research, aims to explore a different route to the same cancer-fighting destination: a new experimental drug called SB1518. This drug inhibits a STAT3-related pathway called JAK2.
The K12 award will back Pal’s lab tests on the effectiveness of the new drug against kidney cancer cells on its own and together with other existing drugs, eventually resulting in a clinical trial.
Getting to glioma at its roots
Malignant glioma is not only the most common cancer of the central nervous system — it is also one of the most resistant to treatment. Patients typically survive only a year after diagnosis.
According to Jandial, assistant professor in the Division of Neurosurgery, one of the reasons it is so tough to vanquish is because it appears to arise and progress from cancer stem cells. Even after physicians remove a tumor from the brain and administer drugs and radiation, the tumor usually returns because current cancer treatments fail to eradicate cancer stem cells.
Grant funding will support Jandial’s studies evaluating the role of cancer stem cells in glioma recurrence. It also will further his research exploring the potential of neuromodulatory drugs — therapies that affect the nervous system — to interfere with cancer stem cells. At the end of the grant, he aims to evaluate the selected drug through clinical trials.
Grants advance careers during critical time
The National Institutes of Health offers career development grants to support young investigators’ move to independent careers.
City of Hope’s K12 program was renewed for $3.6 million in 2009; only three other institutions received new K12 grants or renewals from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) last year. Institutions nationwide with NCI K12 programs include M.D. Anderson and Memorial Sloan-Kettering cancer centers.
“Funding for researchers at this point in their careers is critical because it’s a time when peer-reviewed funding is less available,” said Robert Figlin, M.D., chair of the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research. “For an investigator, it’s the time of greatest promise but also the great challenge.”
The funds provide stability and advance scientists’ research by helping them focus on a multiyear, multidisciplinary project. Other researchers at City of Hope receiving such awards include Arti Hurria, M.D., who received a K23 award from the National Institute on Aging for her work with geriatric cancer patients.