UT Health San Antonio Lands $9.1M Grant to Study Drug Resistance

Xconomy Texas — 

San Antonio — A group of scientists at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is starting research projects funded by the National Cancer Institute that use data collection and computational analysis to study why breast and prostate cancers can progress and why they resist anti-hormone therapies.

The goal of the 5-year, $9.1 million grant—which incorporates work from some 20 biological and computational scientists from UT Health and other schools—is to identify biological pathways that may lead to new drugs, says Nameer Kirma, a faculty member of UT Health’s department of molecular medicine. The research won’t directly incorporate any clinical drug testing, but is the preclinical work that aims to identify mechanisms that lead to drug resistance, says Kirma, who is leading outreach for the projects.

“We can create better understanding on how we can target these pathways and develop more drugs in the future,” he says.

The research is being led by Tim Huang, the interim director of the UT Health Cancer Center (formerly called the Cancer Therapy & Research Center), and Victor Jin, another molecular medicine faculty member. They’ll manage some 20 scientists working on the research from UT Health, Ohio State University, Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Texas at San Antonio, Duke University, and the University of Vermont.

The 20 researchers will have different areas of focus, though they will be broadly centered on the genetic makeup of cells. One scientist at UT Health will examine how to isolate circulating tumor cells so they can be expanded to possibly study the epigenetic mechanism of cancer, while another computer scientist from the UT-San Antonio will help create a computational tool that can analyze data about genetic assemblies the research will produce.

Along with the grant, the UT Health Cancer Center was selected to become a member of the Cancer Systems Biology Consortium, a group of nine schools that focus on basic cancer research, such as drug resistance and the role of the immune system in the disease’s progression. Other members include Stanford, Columbia, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research.

Huang, who is leading the grant research at UT Health, was involved at a predecessor program called the Integrative Cancer Biology Program in his previous job at Ohio State University.