Siteman Investment Program awards $2.2 million in cancer research grants

Research on breast cancer and the effects of chemotherapy are among the seven projects that will benefit from $2.2 million in new grants announced by Siteman Cancer Center through its Siteman Investment Program. The goal of the grants is to support and accelerate the pace of innovation in cancer research.

The money awarded comes from a variety of sources: Pedal the Cause annual bike challenge and Illumination gala, through the Cancer Frontier Fund at the Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital; the Fashion Footwear Association of New York; the National Cancer Institute; and the Barnard Trust.

The research projects are described below.

 

Title: Siteman Cancer Center Breast Cancer SPORE

Principal investigator: William Gillanders, MD, a professor of surgery at Washington University School of Medicine and a research member of Siteman Cancer Center

Amount: $400,000 over one year

Goal: To create a Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) focused on tumor immunology, oncologic imaging, surgical oncology and breast cancer prevention that will enable researchers to quickly translate basic science discoveries to clinical uses for patients with breast cancer

Description: Breast cancer is a mixed and diverse disease that will require a combination of prevention, diagnostic and treatment approaches to decrease mortality. This project brings together a multidisciplinary team of investigators leveraging institutional strengths in basic and translational research. The objective is to obtain NCI funding for a Breast Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) that will enable rapid clinical translation of basic science discoveries with the goal of impacting patient care. Siteman Investment Program funds will provide critical continuing support for the development of a Breast Cancer SPORE at Siteman Cancer Center with a focus on tumor immunology, oncologic imaging, surgical oncology, and breast cancer prevention.

Title: RNA as a target of alkylation chemotherapy in cancer

Principal investigators: Nima Mosammaparast, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of pathology and immunology at the School of Medicine and a research member of Siteman Cancer Center, and Hani Zaher, PhD, an assistant professor of biology at Washington University School of Arts and Sciences

Amount: $400,000 over two years

Goal: To better understand the importance of chemotherapy-induced RNA damage of cells which will impact our understanding of how tumors respond to chemotherapy and ultimately may lead to new targets for chemosensitization

Description: Alkylating agents, a highly reactive group of molecules, are frequently used in cancer chemotherapeutics. These drugs are thought to work primarily by damaging the genome, which consists of DNA. However, another key molecule in the cell that is targeted by these drugs is RNA. Yet, we do not understand whether RNA damage by alkylating agents is important for tumor responses to these drugs. At a chemical level, RNA is very similar to DNA and changes to its structure often affect its function during protein synthesis. Therefore, we propose that RNA damage contributes to cell death upon exposure to alkylating agents. Our studies will focus on understanding how cells deal with RNA damaged with alkylating agents, and how this may affect tumor responses to these commonly used drugs. This work represents a major paradigm shift in our understanding of how tumor cells respond to chemotherapy, and may provide new ways of treating multiple types of cancer.

 

Title: Optimizing decision making about breast reconstruction after mastectomy: A patient-centered approach

Principal investigators: Siteman Cancer Center research members Terence Myckatyn, MD, a professor of surgery at the School of Medicine, and Mary Politi, PhD, an associate professor of surgery at the School of Medicine

Amount: $400,000 over two years

Goal: To develop a clinical decision support tool that will enable physicians and patients to make high-quality breast reconstruction decisions, ultimately improving cancer survivorship for women with breast cancer

Description: Deciding whether or not to have breast reconstruction after mastectomy, when to have reconstruction, and which type of reconstruction to have is very challenging for patients with breast cancer. Currently, this choice is limited by inadequate information and deficits in knowledge about treatment options. In this proposal, we aim to develop and evaluate a novel clinical decision support tool that integrates patients’ unique clinical characteristics with their preferences to enable clinicians and patients to make high-quality breast reconstruction decisions. This research will promote personalized cancer care for patients with breast cancer. Ultimately, this proposal has the potential to improve knowledge of treatment risks, harms and benefits; enable patients across racial groups to get the treatments they prefer; and improve outcomes patients find important, thereby improving cancer survivorship for women with breast cancer.

 

Title: Evaluating cognitive function and functional connectivity in breast cancer survivors who received chemotherapy

Principal investigators: Jay Piccirillo, MD, a professor of otolaryngology at the School of Medicine and a research member of Siteman Cancer Center; Lindsay Peterson, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at the School of Medicine; Alex Wong, PhD, an assistant professor of occupational therapy at the School of Medicine; and Bradley Schlaggar, MD, PhD, a professor of neurology at the School of Medicine

Amount: $400,000 over two years

Goal: To better understand the basis of chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment (CRCI) in breast cancer patients, to ultimately improve the survivorship experience

Description: Chemotherapy has been linked to cognitive impairments among breast cancer patients, especially related to planning, learning and attention. The neurological basis of this phenomenon, termed chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment (CRCI), is unknown, and the impact in patients over an extended period of time is lacking. The study aims to establish the groundwork to allow the assessment of the structural brain reasons that CRCI occurs and to evaluate why some patients develop CRCI and others do not. All newly diagnosed eligible breast cancer patients scheduled to undergo chemotherapy at Siteman Cancer Center will be enrolled in order to establish the Clinical Database for Cognitive Assessment. These patients will complete several cognitive function measures pre- and post-chemotherapy. A subset of these patients will complete special MRI functional imaging pre-and post-chemotherapy. Ultimately, the results of this project will support the exploration of the reasons why CRCI occurs and identify ways to improve the survivorship experience for breast cancer patients.

 

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