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U-M researchers part of cancer 'dream team'

Stand Up 2 Cancer grant will focus on targeted breast cancer therapies

added 5/28/09

Ann Arbor - Two researchers from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center are part of a "dream team" of scientists across the country to receive an $18 million grant to study targeted breast cancer therapies.

The three-year grant is from Stand Up to Cancer, the charitable initiative supporting groundbreaking research aimed at getting new cancer treatments to patients in an accelerated timeframe.

The project includes 13 investigators from institutions across the country. The two U-M participants are Max Wicha, M.D., director of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Arul Chinnaiyan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology.

This project will address the most significant issues related to the three major subtypes of breast cancer - estrogen-receptor, or ER, positive; HER2-positive; and triple negative (ER-negative, progesterone-receptor-negative and HER2-negative) and will use that information to develop innovative, less toxic therapies with the potential to improve the treatment outcomes for women with this disease.

A major focus of the project will be the role of cancer stem cells, the small number of cells within a tumor that fuel the tumor's growth and spread. Wicha's lab was the first to discover cancer stem cells in breast tumors.

"The goal of all our existing therapies has been to kill as many cells within the tumor as possible. The current model may lead to treatments limited in their effectiveness, because we have not been targeting the most important cells in the tumor - the cancer stem cells. If we hope to cure more cancers we will need to target and eliminate this critical type of cancer cell," Wicha says.

One critical component of this study will be to bring together the vast amount of information that exists about breast cancer into an integrated database that will form a "discovery platform," or basis for identifying and validating new drug combinations and targets that can be pursued in clinical trials. The team expects that these efforts will lead to significantly improved therapies for breast cancer, especially the most difficult to treat forms, within the three-year grant period.

"We've made significant progress in our understanding of the molecular basis of cancer. Now, we need to bring this knowledge to clinicians and move beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to cancer treatment," Chinnaiyan says.

The dream teams were chosen through a rigorous submission and review process conducted by a committee of leading scientists and physicians selected by the American Association for Cancer Research. A total of $73.6 million was awarded to five teams, comprising 38 leaders, co-leaders and investigators from 20 institutions. The projects are translational in nature, which means they are designed to move laboratory research into the clinic, where they can benefit patients. The research topics address some of the most critical and promising areas of cancer research today.

Stand Up To Cancer was formed in fall 2007 by a group of women whose lives have all been affected by cancer. Their goal was to marshal the resources of the media and entertainment industries to raise funds to hasten the pace of groundbreaking translational research. The majority of the funds raised came during a telethon last fall that aired simultaneously on three of the major television networks.

The grants will be administered by the American Association for Cancer Research, SU2C's scientific partner.

 

Written by Nicole Fawcett

 

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Please Note: The articles listed in the Cancer Center's News Archive are here for historical purposes. The information and links may no longer be up-to-date.