Tower Cancer

Scientific Research

 

 

Our focus is on Southern California, the hub for some of the world’s leading research institutions and home to our founding physicians.

Inspired by the most promising science, we fund leading local researchers, making us a launchpad for additional funding and discoveries here and on the global stage.

Our focus is funding basic scientific research to uncover the mechanisms by which cancer develops and spreads, creating a path to effectively treating and preventing the disease.

These grants include:

  • One-Year Career Development Grants
  • Five-Year $500,000 Senior Investigator Grants
USC-Norris-Research-scientific

Current Research Projects

Stem Cell Reprogramming of Anti-Tumor T Cells

$100,000 Tower Career Development Grant

Cancer is a leading cause of death. A cancer treatment called TIL therapy can cure patients, even when other treatments have failed. TIL therapy consists of surgically removing a tumor, isolating immune cells from inside the tumor, and then injecting the immune cells back into the blood of the person from whom the tumor was removed. The immune cells can naturally move around the body and kill cancer cells, but one of the main problems with TIL therapy is that the immune cells do not live long enough to completely kill all sites of disease. Here we propose to strengthen the immune cells so that they can live long enough to kill all cancer cells in the body. Our approach involves turning the immune cells into stem cells that have the capacity to make copies of themselves and live a long time. This would provide a big advance in the field so that more people suffering from cancer can be cured with TIL therapy.

Joseph Crompton, MD, PhD
University of California, Los Angeles

Identify Lymphatic Niche Drivers of Oncogenic Tissue Remodeling and Tumorigenesis

$100,000 Tower Career Development Grant

All forms of cancer begin with genetic alterations in otherwise healthy stem cells. Yet, these alone are insufficient to predict when a person might develop the disease or how severe it might be. This raises the possibility that nongenetic events within the tumor ecosystem play a role in unleashing tumorigenesis. The goal of this proposal is to determine how the lymphatic system shapes the stem cell oncogenic landscape throughout cancer initiation and progression. We found that tumor-initiating stem cells rely on their connections with lymphatic vessels, typically considered as the waste drains of the body. Using a model of skin cancer, we are proposing a new tool to track cancer cells in their natural habitat to find how lymphatic vessels shield cancer cells and aid their spread to other parts of the body. A successful outcome of our studies holds promise for the development of therapeutics that block early cancer progression and pave the way to combat advanced metastatic disease.

Shiri Gur-Cohen, PhD
University of California, San Diego

Targeting Liver Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer

$100,000 Tower Career Development Grant

Pancreatic cancer is projected to become the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States by 2030. More than half of cases are only discovered once the disease has already spread into other organs, with the liver being the most common site of metastasis. Despite this, most preclinical work studying pancreatic cancer has been done in models of cancer localized to the pancreas. Using metastasis models, my laboratory has found different programs are driving how cells communicate with each other in pancreas and liver tumors. We expect these will lead to weaknesses that can be exploited to slow the growth of tumors in the liver or possibly prevent the establishment of metastasis from happening. Our focus on this aspect of the disease has a significantly higher probability of identifying successful approaches that will transform clinical care.

Christopher Halbrook, PhD
University of California, Irvine

Targeting infiltrating glioblastoma via pH sensitive visualization of tumor and pH modulation through bicarbonate transporter SLC4A4

$100,000 Tower Career Development Grant

Glioblastoma is the most common form of brain cancer. Despite treatment, most patients do not live beyond 2 years from diagnosis. The standard way to surgically remove this tumor is to use guidance from magnetic resonance imaging or MRI. However, there is evidence that what MRI shows as tumor edge is not the true tumor margin. I have utilized a new type of MRI that identifies the pH (the acidity of a substance) to visualize these previously invisible cells. In addition, I have identified a specific receptor on the surface of these acidic cells called SLC4A4 involved in regulating the acidity of cells. I will investigate how removing these acidic cells at the margin of the tumor effects patients and if targeting this receptor can treat tumor cells by changing the tumor acidity. For the first time, we are researching the use of pH to target glioblastoma cells in hopes to improve treatment for this deadly disease.

Kunal Patel, MD
University of California, Los Angeles

2023 Career Development Researchers

Joseph Crompton, MD, PhD

Joseph Crompton, MD, PhD

University of California, Los Angeles $100,000 Tower Career Development Grant

Research Title: Stem Cell Reprogramming of Anti-Tumor T Cells
Shiri Gur-Cohen, PhD

Shiri Gur-Cohen, PhD

University of California, San Diego $100,000 Tower Career Development Grant

Research Title: Identify Lymphatic Niche Drivers of Oncogenic Tissue Remodeling and Tumorigenesis
Christopher Halbrook, PhD

Christopher Halbrook, PhD

University of California, Irvine $100,000 Tower Career Development Grant

Research Title: Targeting Liver Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer
Kunal Patel, MD

Kunal Patel, MD

University of California, Los Angeles $100,000 Tower Career Development Grant

Research Title: Targeting infiltrating glioblastoma via pH sensitive visualization of tumor and pH modulation through bicarbonate transporter SLC4A4

Inspired by the most promising science, we’re creating outsized impact.

Career Development Grants awarded by Tower Cancer*
$

Invested in Career Development Grants by Tower Cancer*
$

Additional subsequent funds awarded by others to Tower Cancer grantees for cancer research*

*Data from the inception of Tower Cancer’s Career Development Grants in 2006 to 2023

Scientific Advisory Board