Two UAB professors recognized for scientific research through the 2022 Endeavor Awards

The $3 million Mark Foundation for Cancer Research grant was awarded to UAB to study the interplay of inflammation and clonal expansion in leukemia.

Welner InsideRobert Welner, Ph.D.Robert Welner, Ph.D., and Rui Lu, Ph.D., both associate scientists within the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, have received a $3 million Mark Foundation for Cancer Research 2022 Endeavor Award to study the interplay of inflammation and clonal expansion in leukemia.

Promoting collaborative science, Endeavor Awards are granted to multidisciplinary teams pursuing innovative, unique approaches to understand and treat cancer. The Endeavor teams bring together investigators from top cancer research centers across two continents, including eight states.

The team will focus on cutting-edge topics in cancer research, including inflammation, the microbiome, metabolism and the humoral immune system. Lu and Welner’s team will focus on clonal hematopoiesis, an age-related condition that can cause an overproduction of blood progenitor cells, which is a vital risk factor for many blood cancers.

“We are grateful for the generous funding provided by the Mark Foundation, which enables highly collaborative teamwork to dissect the fundamental principles governing clonal hematopoiesis,” Lu said. “Our project seeks to establish a cellular and molecular framework for a systematic characterization of clonal hematopoiesis. If we understood the rulebook of clonal hematopoiesis, we could develop effective methods to predict and prevent the onset of cancer. We look forward to working with this fantastic team to move the science forward.”

Although Welner is the lead principal investigator on the project, the group involved are equal partners in the research. This project was envisioned from the ground up by the team assembled: Brent Ferrell, M.D., Vanderbilt; Stan Lee, Ph.D., Fred Hutch; Rui Lu, Ph.D., UAB; and Robert Welner, Ph.D., UAB.

“Our group is honored to have been selected as one of this year’s Mark Foundation Endeavor Awards recipients,” Welner said. “This award supports collaborative research that combines groups with different skill sets and focuses on diagnosing and treating leukemia. This funding mechanism uniquely advances our team-based science for discovery that could not be attained through each of the individual groups.”

Welner states that all investigators have been collaborating for over a year, and most for several years, and they are unified in their commitment to data sharing, communication and open science.

“Our program represents a unique opportunity to bring together innovative models, techniques, strategies and research environments to achieve our aims,” Welner said. “The central goal is to understand better the complex interplay of inflammation and clonal expansion in myeloid malignancy.”

Lu InsideRui Lu, Ph.D.The Mark Foundation Endeavor Awards, launched in 2021, support collaborative research projects that bring together investigators from a wide range of disciplines to tackle the toughest challenges in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The $3 million grants are awarded to teams of three or more investigators to generate and integrate data from diverse lines of research and transform those insights into advances for cancer patients that could not be achieved by individual efforts.

A total of seven Endeavor Awards have been granted to date: three inaugural teams received grants for projects beginning in 2021, in addition to the four newly awarded teams starting in 2022.

“Collaboration is critical to success in science,” said Raymond DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., executive chairman of the board of The Mark Foundation. “We’re confident that the incredible projects selected for Endeavor Awards will have a direct and substantial impact on the lives of cancer patients.”

A new call for proposals for Endeavor teams will be issued in May 2022, with at least three additional awards expected to be granted. This substantial commitment to team science is enabled by the recently announced commitment of Alex Knaster, founder of The Mark Foundation, to fund an additional $500 million of cancer research over the Foundation’s first decade.

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