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Research fund awards UTHSC $3.7 million
January 21, 2010

By John W. Gonzalez - San Antonio Express-News

The University of Texas Health Science Center on Wednesday was awarded two of the first grants from a new state entity created by Texas voters to accelerate the cancer fight.

About $3.7 million was set aside for the institution. Most of the sum will be used to support a stellar researcher who has been recruited from Harvard Medical School.

A total of $61 million in grants to universities and private companies was announced Wednesday by the Austin-based Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The initial awards, culled from 900 proposals statewide, will support 66 research projects at 14 universities and companies, the institute said.

The vast majority of the funds, $56.3 million, will be shared by a dozen entities including the local health science center and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The grants will pay for “individual investigator” projects by selected researchers.

Among them is Dr. Ian M. Thompson Jr., interim executive director of the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at the health science center. He was awarded a grant of $1.8 million for “Improving Prostate Biopsy Efficiency: The Finasteride Challenge Test.”

“Dr. Thompson is one of the really critical people in the United States doing early-stage prostate cancer research,” said Tom Slaga, interim deputy director of the CTRC. Thompson is exploring “when to treat and not to treat,” among other questions, Slaga said.

The health science center also was awarded $2 million to recruit a rising star in cancer research — Dmitri Ivanov, an assistant professor of biochemistry at Harvard Medical School. The grant will support his research for four years. The objective is to “rationally do drug design” based on the latest studies of cancer cells, said Slaga, a professor of pharmacology.

“He's bringing (other) grants with him,” Slaga added. “This is to help him get going.”

In creating the state institute in 2007, voters authorized a pool of $3 billion for research grants to be awarded over the next 10 years.

“The groundbreaking ideas created as a result of these investments will bring us one step closer to finding a cure for this indiscriminate killer,” Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said with Texas “in the forefront” of cancer research, “I ... look forward to the innovations and discoveries these funds will achieve.”

A team of 100 scientists scrutinized the 900 grant applications. A statement from the institute said selected projects “will investigate the causes and potential treatments for a wide range of cancers including brain, breast, blood, cervical, colon, liver, lung, ovarian and prostate cancer.”

It added: “A majority of the selected projects are considered translational research focused on moving the discoveries quickly from the laboratory to the patient.”

In addition to the individual investigator and recruitment grants, $2.6 million was awarded to nine institutions, including Baylor, Rice and Texas A&M universities and the University of Texas at Austin, for short-term projects described as “high impact-high risk” to provide new insights into the cause, treatment and prevention of cancers.

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