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Jan. 19, 2001 -- No. 29
Local angles: Chapel Hill, Kinston, Raleigh, Greensboro
Cancer center’s Seed Grants to go toward innovative research, prevention projects
By AMY PHILBECK
UNC-CH Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center
CHAPEL HILL -- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center has awarded nine Seed Grants worth $205,000 for new studies in cancer research.
The grants support new and growing UNC-CH research projects in innovative areas. The grant program helps launch smaller projects that could lead to more in-depth studies in the future.
The grants were made possible by the following businesses and charitable foundations: the Schechter Foundation, the Brody Brothers’ Foundation and the Felix Harvey Foundation, all of Kinston; the Foundation for the Carolinas of Charlotte; the A.E. Finley Foundation Inc. of Raleigh; and the Cemala Foundation Inc. and the Hillsdale Fund Inc., both of Greensboro.
Of the nine grants, six aim to translate laboratory findings into potential clinical use. The remaining studies either examine methods for cancer prevention and control or involve social and behavioral aspects of cancer.
Following are the newly funded projects, awarded to faculty in the schools of Dentistry, Medicine and Public Health, as well as the Kenan-Flagler Business School:
• Dr. Valerie Murrah, professor of diagnostic sciences, will study the effects of the use of smokeless tobacco and certain viruses as causes of oral cancer. While smoking is considered the primary cause for this type of cancer, smokeless tobacco and the virus known as human papillomavirus may also contribute to the development of oral cancer. This research could lead to better timing of specific treatments for oral cancer and new methods for oral cancer prevention.
• Dr. David W. Ollila, assistant professor of surgery, is studying the indicators for the spread of melanoma to the lymph nodes.
Doctors measure the thickness of most melanomas to predict whether they will spread.
The thicker the melanoma, the more likely it is that it will spread to the lymph nodes. Thickness is not an absolute measure, however, so Ollila hopes to find better ways to predict if the melanoma will spread beyond the skin to lymph nodes or internal organs.
• Gary W. Reuther, postdoctoral fellow in pharmacology, proposes to study the causes of various types of leukemia by identifying oncogenes in the human body. Oncogenes are altered versions of normal genes, which can lead to the development of cancer. A new technique for identifying these altered genes has been developed, but it has yet to be extensively used with human cancer samples. Reuther hopes to use this new technique to identify oncogenes that are expressed in various leukemias, which may further the understanding of how leukemias develop and progress.
• Dr. M. Patricia Rivera, assistant professor of medicine, will focus her research on the early detection of lung cancer, the most lethal malignancy for both men and women in the United States. There are no effective screening tools for detecting early lung cancer. In Rivera’s study, 100 patients at high risk of lung cancer will be evaluated using the Lung Imaging Fluorescent Endoscope, which detects pre-malignant bronchial lesions. Patients with abnormal lesions will continue the study with repeated LIFE bronchoscopies, allowing doctors to study the progression of these lesions, and they will also be interviewed to determine the relation of the lesion to tobacco exposure. Rivera hopes this study will lead to better lung cancer screening strategies and more rational assessments of the risk of development.
• Dr. Carol G. Shores, assistant professor of surgery, is studying sentinel node biopsies in head and neck cancer. This technique for detecting the spread of cancer to regional lymph nodes and may reduce the need for more extensive neck surgeries. In addition, lymph nodes from patients who have head and neck cancer will be examined by a sensitive new test, which may detect small areas of cancer that would have been missed by standard examination.
• Dr. Jozef Spychala, research assistant professor of pharmacology, will concentrate on breast cancer studies, particularly on a function of a natural compound in the body known as adenosine. Spychala will explore whether adenosine may be released at high levels from more aggressive breast tumors, possibly helping the cancer to escape immune reaction and grow faster. If adenosine is released at high levels, doctors may be able to find a way to alter adenosine metabolism, neutralize its tumor-promoting functions and inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
• Dr. William K. Funkhouser, assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, will study cancers of the colon and rectum.
When these types of cancers are hereditary, it has been shown that patients will often have defective mechanisms for the repair of DNA. Surprisingly, these patients often survive longer than those who have no family history of colon cancer.Some patients who have no family history of colon cancer also have the repair defect, and they, too, tend to live longer. Funkhouser plans to study colon cancer patients who do not have a family history of cancer to see how the presence or absence of the repair defect relates to factors such as patient survival, patient race and tumor growth.
• Dr. James R. Sorenson, professor of health behavior and health education, plans to study a new tool for aiding breast cancer patients in deciding whether to pursue genetic testing. Patients are often unclear on how their personal values and beliefs should enter into a testing decision. This research will develop a decision aid that will help women and their genetic counselors consider the role of the patient’s personal values and beliefs in making a decision. If effective, the decision aid, which is a four-page questionnaire, should assist women in arriving at a decision that they can live with.
• Dr. Paul N. Bloom, professor of marketing, will explore social and behavioral research in cancer. Considerable research focuses on the impact of tobacco-company advertising and anti- smoking ad campaigns on teen-agers. However, researchers were not yet studying the effects of advertising for nicotine-replacement products such as Nicoderm, Nicorette and Nicotrol. Bloom’s research will focus on whether these advertisements discouraged non-smoking teens from smoking by depicting smoking as dangerous and difficult to stop, or if it actually encourages young people to try or continue smoking because it makes quitting look easy. The first part of this study is already being conducted with undergraduates at UNC-CH. Students are being asked to evaluate messages related to the Nicotrol inhaler, as well as control messages. The second part of the study will involve a younger population of 15- to 18-year- olds, who will be asked similar questions.
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Contact: Dianne G. Shaw, (919) 966-5905