Funded Research

  • Synthetic Lethal Networks to Guide Precision Oncology in GI Tumors
    $100,000 Cancer Free Generation Career Development Research Grant

    Cancer cells have many mutations- that is what makes them cancer. Recently it has become clear every cancer patient’s tumor is unique; like snowflakes, cancer cells appear similar from a distance, but when inspected closely no two are exactly the same. This research proposal attempts to better understand how each tumor is different, so that in the future oncologists will be able to pick the right drugs for each unique patient and tumor. Specifically, I am looking to find weaknesses in the cancer cell, so that newer drugs will be able to kill cancer cells while sparing heathy cells.

    Sponsor: Trey Ideker, PhD

    John Paul Shen, MD
    University of California, San Diego
  • Developing a Neoadjuvant Platform to Study Macrophage-Driven Resistance
    $50,000 Tower Career Development Grant

    Immunotherapy is an exciting development in cancer treatment, but has not yet made its mark in sarcoma. The resistance of sarcoma to immunotherapy might be related to the presence of macrophages –a type of immune cell. Here, we aim to understand why sarcomas are full of macrophages, and how macrophages impede the immune system. We will determine how radiation therapy, which is commonly used for patients before surgery, affects these phenomena. Our ultimate goal is to design clinical trials to test drugs targeting macrophages in combination with radiation to make immunotherapy relevant for sarcoma.

    Sponsor: Antoni Ribas, MD, PhD

    Anusha Kalbasi, MD
    University of California, Los Angeles
  • Modeling Super-Enhancers in Barrett’s esophagus-associated neoplastic evolution
    $50,000 Tower Career Development Grant

    With the help of medical research, the incidences and mortalities of many common cancers (e.g., those from breast, lung and colon cancers) are dropping significantly in US. However, as one of the deadliest malignancies, esophageal carcinoma (EAC) has strikingly risen in incidence (> 600% during the last four decades in USA), with the five-year survival of only 16%. Although Barrett’s esophagus (BE) has long been regarded as a precursor lesion of EAC, no effective preventive strategies is available. Better characterization of EAC pathogenesis and its evolution from BE is greatly needed to decrease the impact of this deadly cancer.

    Sponsor: H. Phillip Koeffler, MD, PhD

    Dechen Lin, PhD
    Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
  • Polo-like Kinase 4 as a Regulator of Cytokinesis and as a Target for Cancer Therapy
    $500,00 Jessica M. Berman Memorial Fund Senior Investigator Grant

    Polo-like kinase 4 (PLK4) regulates duplication of each cell’s centrosome, which facilitates movement of duplicated chromosomes to opposite poles in dividing cells. Without two centrosomes cells cannot divide; hence preventing cancer cell duplication. We have also found that PLK4 controls a final step in cell division, known as cytokinesis. We are part of a research collaboration that has developed a new drug, CFI-400945, which inhibits PLK4 activity. Our proposal seeks support to identify biomarkers that predict which cancers cannot complete cell division when PLK4 function is inhibited and which cancers, like normal cells, can complete cell division.

    Michael F. Press, MD, PhD
    University of Southern California
  • Targeting Mismatch Repair System for Cancer Therapy
    $500.000 Magnolia Council Senior Investigator Grant

    Despite decades of extensive studies in cancer research, cancer is still the number 2 leading cause of death in the United States. The major problem is that individual cancers display distinct genetic abnormalities, and none of the known treatments and their combination can effectively deal with these abnormalities. We have recently created a mutant DNA repair protein that irreversibly binds to cancer cell-specific DNA errors during cancer growth, leading to cell death. This application aims to develop this mutant DNA repair protein into an effective drug for cancer therapy.

    Xiaojiang Chen, PhD
    University of Southern California
  • Dual PI3K and BRD4 Inhibition as a Novel Therapeutic Strategy for Hepatocellular Carcinoma
    $100,000 Irving Feintech Family Foundation Career Development Grant

    Liver cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death worldwide, but the sole FDA-approved drug for liver cancer prolongs life for only 2-3 months and has significant side effects. While most anti-cancer drugs have a single target, we are investigating a novel drug, SF1126, that simultaneously targets two proteins (PI3K and BRD4) that are overactive in liver cancer, and our experiments demonstrate that it is efficacious and well tolerated. We are studying the mechanism whereby SF1126 kills liver cancer cells and are actively pursuing the use of dual PI3K/BRD4 inhibitors in clinical trials in liver cancer patients.

    Sponsor: Donald L. Durden, MD, PhD

    Adam Burgoyne, MD, PhD
    University of California, San Diego
  • Identification and Functional Analysis of PAX8 Binding Site Mutations in Ovarian Cancer
    $100,000 Magnolia Council Career Development Research Grant

    Epithelial ovarian cancers (OC) are highly lethal tumors, but treatment options are limited, largely because our poor understanding of the biology of OC development has hindered the development of new drugs. Recent investigations in our laboratory and others identified the PAX8 gene as a major driver of OC, regulating the expression of key genes to promote tumorigenesis. The goal of this proposal is to understand how DNA mutations impact PAX8-dependent control of target gene expression to promote cancer development. The idea is that by understanding pathways upstream of cancer gene expression we can identify much-needed new therapeutic targets for OC.

    Sponsor: Ben Berman, PhD

    Kate Lawrenson, PhD
    Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
  • Development of a Novel dCK Inhibitor for Leukemia and Lymphoma using PET Imaging
    $100,000 Cancer Free Generation Career Development Research Grant

    DI82 is a new potential chemotherapy drug which can kill cancer cells by preventing them from making new DNA. The project will look at drug levels in the blood, tumor, and other parts of the body using an imaging machine (PET). The drug will be tested in mice in combination with two other drugs to determine how well they work together to kill tumor cells. This information will be used in a model to predict how much drug to give patients in future human studies.

    Sponsor: Caius Radu, MD

    Mina Nikanjam, MD, PhD
    University of California, Los Angeles
  • Discovery Fund
    $1M Jack Mishkin Discovery Fund

    With scientific excellence and an ambitious vision, the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute is giving hope to patients with mesothelioma. With Tower’s support, Cedars-Sinai team members will collaborate across disciplines to investigate how mesothelioma begins, how it grows, and how to halt its progression. Team members will conduct research that spans the continuum – from novel laboratory explorations, to translational experiments, to clinical trials that test the safety and efficacy of new interventions for the prevention and treatment in humans. Clinical scientists and basic scientists will submit proposals and, after a rigorous peer-review process by the multi-disciplinary committee, a winning project(s) will be selected.

    Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute
    Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
  • Next-Generation Estrogen Receptor Downregulators for Breast Cancer Therapy
    $500,000 Jessica M. Berman Memorial Fund Senior Investigator Grant

    Despite remarkable improvements in treatment options, development of endocrine resistance is one reason that breast cancer is the second most frequent cause of cancer death in women. In most cases, estrogen receptor (ER) is present in these resistant tumors, and in many ER continues to regulate tumor growth. This project aims to develop a new clinical-translational strategy to address this challenge and promote patient survival. Dr. Pietras plans to develop a new generation of selective ER downregulators (termed SERDs) with the proper biologic/pharmacologic profile to be used as therapeutics for endocrine-sensitive and -resistant cancers in clinic.

    Richard J. Pietras, MD, PhD
    University of California, Los Angeles

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