Hollings awards pilot funds for cancer research projects

August 24, 2023
a glove hand picks up a glass vial in front of a computer screen showing rows of DNA data
Providing funds for small projects allows Hollings Cancer Center researchers to generate the preliminary data that can convince larger grantmakers that an idea is worth pursuing. Adobe Stock / Andrew Brookes

MUSC Hollings Cancer Center is investing in its members’ ideas. The center awarded a number of pilot grants through the spring and summer to kickstart research projects on a range of topics, from basic science to survivorship, with the idea that these projects could generate preliminary results that might qualify them for larger grants in the future from the National Cancer Institute or other grantmaking organizations.

Pre-Clinical and Clinical Concepts Award 

This award, which is partly funded by LOWVELO, provides one year of pilot funding in order to develop data to be used in a grant submission.

Project: IL-33/ST2 signaling and treatment refractoriness in AML and MDS

Awardees: Alexander Coltoff, M.D., principal investigator, along with co-principal investigator Sophie Paczesny, M.D., Ph.D., and collaborator Elizabeth Hill, Ph.D.

The team will investigate how IL-33 and ST2, two proteins that help regulate the immune system, influence how patients with acute myeloid leukemia and high-grade myelodysplastic neoplasms respond to treatment, and hopefully identify new targets for the treatment of these aggressive blood cancers.

Idea Award 

Idea awards provide pilot funding for high-risk, high-reward concepts that external grantmakers may be reluctant to fund. These grants are funded in part by LOWVELO.

Project: CD36-sphingolipid axis in regulating osteosarcoma progression

Awardee: Meenal Mehrotra, M.D., Ph.D.

Mehrotra will test an idea for blocking the spread of osteosarcoma, the most common bone cancer. This cancer accounts for 2.4% of cancers in children and young adults but 8.9% of cancer deaths, and overall survival is 60%.

Mehrotra’s research indicates that non-malignant osteoblasts, the cells that grow into new bone, inadvertently spread the osteosarcoma. She will block a sphingolipid produced by the osteoblasts and measure whether that reduces the cancer’s spread.

Project: Leveraging Lineage Addiction: Nuclear Delivery of Therapeutic DNA Constructs Responsive to Oncogenic Transcription Factor Over-Expression

Awardee: John Wrangle, M.D., with collaborators Martin Kang, Ph.D., and Aguirre De Cubas, Ph.D.

Using viruses that naturally infect human cells, the team is developing new “software” programs that, inside the nucleus of a cancer cell, will force the cancer to produce therapies that kill it. They are starting with an anti-cancer software program for lung cancer, but if successful the therapy approach will be applied to almost any human cancer.

Entrepreneurial Sciences in Cancer Award 

This award is for projects with potential for commercialization that are expected to generate new intellectual property or to strengthen existing intellectual property.

Project: Lysyl oxidase inhibitors to increase the efficacy of immunotherapy in triple negative breast cancer

Awardee: Ozgur Sahin, Ph.D.

Sahin’s research has shown that targeting the protein lysyl oxidase, or LOX, overcomes chemotherapy resistance in triple negative breast cancer by helping the chemotherapy to better penetrate the tumor microenvironment. In this project, he will test the newly developed LOX inhibitors.

Project: Developing point of manufacture RNA transfection and stability during cryopreservation

Awardee: Richard O’Neil, Ph.D.

Patients receiving CAR-T-cell therapy currently must undergo a lymphodepleting chemotherapy regimen, which kills existing T-cells and makes the infusion of CAR-T-cells more effective. However, lymphodepleting chemotherapy can cause serious side effects. O’Neil’s research indicates that mRNA transfection of cells could eliminate the need for lymphodepleting chemotherapy. This project will determine the most effective RNA preparation and cell preservation method.

American Cancer Society Institutional Research Grant 

The American Cancer Society awards an institutional grant to Hollings, which then provides funding to small research projects by early-career investigators.

Project: Repurposing regulatory T-cells to eradicate solid tumors using chimeric antigen receptors

Awardee: Leonardo Ferreira, Ph.D. with collaborators Elizabeth Hill, Ph.D., and Aguirre De Cubas, Ph.D.

CAR-T-cell therapy has been effective for blood cancers, but not yet for solid tumors. Ferreira’s research investigates using regulatory T-cells (Tregs) to penetrate solid tumors.

Project: Evaluation of multimorbidity, functional status and financial toxicity among oropharyngeal cancer survivors

Awardee: Haluk Damgacioglu, Ph.D., with collaborators Ashish Deshmukh, Ph.D., Kalyani Sonawane, Ph.D., and Evan Graboyes, M.D.

Damgacioglu will use data from a Medicare-linked database to investigate the chronic medical conditions, functional status and financial burden of oropharyngeal cancer among older adults.

Project: Comparing the effects of augmented doses of nicotine replacement therapy on quitting cigarettes and e-cigarettes

Awardee: Amanda Palmer, Ph.D., with collaborator Benjamin Toll, Ph.D.

Palmer’s project will test FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapies to help dual users of cigarettes and e-cigarettes to quit tobacco use altogether.