October 2, 2000
BIRMINGHAM, AL — UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center has received $13 million from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to establish a Breast Cancer Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE). SPORE grants are awarded on a highly competitive basis and are intended to support research that demonstrates "immediate potential for reducing cancer incidence and mortality."
The five-year, $13,829,268 award establishes UAB among the nation's leaders in terms of research and treatment of cancer in women. UAB also holds a $7 million Ovarian Cancer SPORE grant, making it the only institution in the nation to have SPOREs for both ovarian and breast cancers. Cancer centers at Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and Northwestern universities also received breast cancer SPOREs in an 18-center competition. There now are nine breast cancer SPOREs.
UAB has more than $300 million in grants and contracts from all sources, with about $65 million of that awarded to the cancer center. This new award is one of the university’s three largest grants.
"With this award UAB is well on its way to becoming the number one institution in the southeastern United States in its breast cancer programs," says Dr. Kirby I. Bland, chairman of UAB's department of surgery and principal investigator for the breast cancer SPORE. "Our special emphasis will be on developing novel treatments in the laboratory that can be converted quickly into treatments for patients. We will also be able to recruit and nurture a number of faculty for bench-to-bedside research." Bland also is deputy director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Although the new faculty will target breast cancer, much of the technology involved is applicable to other diseases, says Dr. Albert F. LoBuglio, director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. "With the Ovarian and the Breast Cancer SPOREs, we are establishing a national leadership position in the broader arena of women’s cancer research," LoBuglio says.
The breast cancer SPORE provides infrastructure to support a number of initiatives and to develop additional faculty to carry them out, LoBuglio notes. "We have been dedicated to seeking new funding for programs to attack breast cancer," he said. In recent months the cancer center has received a war chest of funds designated for breast cancer from various sources. They include a multimillion dollar gift from Avon Products Foundation and a three-year, $4 million competitive award from the Department of Defense.
The breast cancer SPORE will greatly strengthen and expand the breast cancer research at the cancer center, Bland says. Funding will go to six major research areas that draw faculty from multiple fields. They and their project leaders are:
- Chemoprevention: Led by Dr. Donald D. Muccio, this project will develop preclinical and clinical studies of UAB-designed chemical agents called retinoids that have shown potential for preventing breast cancer tumor activity.
- Gene Therapy: Dr. David T. Curiel will lead an effort to develop unique methods of delivering genes to specific targets in an effort to “starve” breast cancer tumors by disrupting their blood supply, a strategy known as anti-angiogenesis.
- Mechanisms of Hormonal Resistance: Dr. Francis G. Kern of Southern Research Institute will lead a group studying ways to overcome some patients' low response to Tamoxifen and other hormonally-based breast cancer treatments, and focusing on how anti-angiogenesis agents might reverse this process.
- Targeted Immunotherapy: Drs. Robert M. Conry and Teresa Strong seek to augment the efficacy of breast cancer vaccines, which induces the body to reject tumor cells.
- Cancer-causing Genes (oncogenes): Dr. J. Michael Ruppert will lead a study of an oncogene called GKLF, found in 70 percent of breast cancer patients, for its potential as a marker in chemoprevention trials.
- Pre-targeting Radioimmunotherapy: Dr. Ruby F. Meredith’s group will use radioactive isotopes and a novel protein that fuses antibodies with radioisotopes to treat patients who have metastatic breast cancer.