The STOP CANCER organization has awarded career development awards to two City of Hope scientists to encourage their ongoing research.
Wendong Huang, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Gene Regulation & Drug Discovery, and Takahiro (Taka) Maeda, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Hematopoietic Stem Cell & Leukemia Research, each will receive $150,000 over three years to conduct research leading to new cancer therapies. City of Hope will match the grants, bringing each to more than $300,000.
Huang will target liver cancer by analyzing a family of proteins that help the body regulate metabolism. He has shown that those proteins — which belong to a family known as nuclear receptors — not only protect liver cells against potential damage from obesity, diabetes and alcohol, but they also defend against liver cancer.
Early this year, Huang reported in Cancer Research that mice engineered to lack a specific nuclear receptor known as the farnesoid X receptor — or FXR — developed spontaneous liver cancers. “What that means is that FXR is not only necessary for normal liver metabolism, but that without it, mice have a predisposition to liver cancer,” Huang said.
STOP CANCER funding will help Huang determine how FXR protects mouse and human cells from liver cancer. “We have been working primarily with animal models, but now we can look at FXR expression levels and mutations in human tumor samples,” he said. Huang aims to develop ways to treat liver cancer and sensitive methods to detect potential cancer-causing mutations in the human FXR gene.
Maeda will focus on how a protein known as Leukemia/Lymphoma Related Factor (LRF) promotes blood cancer. Maeda has found that LRF is required for normal development of immune cells called B-cells — results published in Science.
Previously, Maeda also showed that LRF is highly expressed in human non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and when he genetically engineered mice to make too much LRF in immune system cells, the mice developed leukemia or lymphoma.
He is currently analyzing LRF’s normal activities, as well as those that cause cancer. “We know this gene is important for normal B-cell development and is a critical oncogene in lymphoma, but no one knows how it works,” said Maeda. He will use his award to determine how precisely LRF protein regulates normal B-cell development in mice and to develop drugs to turn off overactive LRF in human lymphomas.
STOP CANCER funding is critical for young researchers who have not yet had time to get the major grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) required to run a laboratory. “This funding will act as a bridge and enable me to produce preliminary data necessary to apply for NIH funding,” said Maeda.
Huang agreed. “Some of the experiments I am proposing are risky: STOP CANCER allows an investigator to take a risk,” he said.
STOP CANCER is a nonprofit, philanthropic organization founded in 1988 by entrepreneur and philanthropist Armand Hammer in partnership with Sherry Lansing, then chief executive officer and chair of Paramount Pictures. Based in Southern California, it is dedicated to helping find a cure for cancer by funding research at National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers such as City of Hope. It provides grants to scientists engaged in innovative cancer research, particularly research with clinical applications.
For more information about STOP CANCER, please visit www.stopcancer.net.