New Round of Cancer Research Grants Attracts Rising Young Researcher to The University of Texas at Austin Faculty

With a $2 million startup grant from the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), biologist Jason Upton will join the faculty of The University of Texas at Austin in January to continue his efforts to improve existing cancer therapies and develop new ones.

Upton investigates how programmed cell death pathways are dysregulated in tumor cells. He is one of eight faculty members across the university who recently received a total of $7.4 million in funding in November from CPRIT to support fundamental cancer research.

One of CPRIT's goals is to attract top cancer scientists to Texas. Upton, who will start his position as an assistant professor of molecular genetics and microbiology in January 2012, joins the faculty from Emory University in Atlanta.

Other recent recipients of CPRIT funding include:

Kevin Dalby, associate professor of pharmacy. Dalby received $1 million to expand his research on newly discovered compounds with potential to treat breast cancer. He and his colleagues will investigate the mechanism of action of the compounds, devise a delivery system for potential therapy and determine whether that therapy works better alone or with chemotherapy.

George Georgiou, professor of chemical and biomedical engineering and molecular genetics and microbiology. Georgiou received $200,000 to develop a human version of the therapeutic enzyme asparaginase that displays fewer adverse side effects than the bacterial enzyme that is currently used in treating pediatric and adult leukemias and other cancers.

Vishy Iyer, associate professor of molecular genetics and microbiology. Iyer received $1.1 million to use next-generation sequencing technologies to identify and study the role of noncoding DNA variants in gene regulation as a means to diagnose and develop personalized therapies for a common brain cancer in collaboration with Matt Cowperthwaite, director of research at the NeuroTexas Institute at St. David's HealthCare.

Edward Marcotte, professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Marcotte received $200,000 to develop a large-scale, rapid method for diagnosing and characterizing cancers noninvasively using fluids such as saliva, blood and urine by identifying and quantifying individual peptides or proteins that point to the presence of cancer in the body.

Jonathan Sessler, professor of chemistry and biochemistry. Sessler received $1.3 million to further develop and study texaphyrin-platinum conjugates as a less toxic treatment option for many cancers, including lung and ovarian cancer.

Philip Tucker, professor of molecular genetics and microbiology. Tucker received $948,000 to further characterize how transcriptional deregulation leads to the development of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, one of the most common and aggressive types of malignancy.

Steven Vokes, assistant professor of molecular, cell and developmental biology. Vokes received $660,000 to better understand how aberrancies in the cellular signaling pathway known as "Hedgehog" lead to basal cell carcinomas, the most common form of cancer in humans. The research will identify the genes directly activated by Hedgehog signaling and provide a framework for understanding how the activation occurs. The identification of these genes should enable the generation of more specific cancer therapies.

CPRIT is a state agency that was created when Texas voters overwhelmingly approved a 2007 constitutional amendment authorizing the state to issue $3 billion in bonds to fund groundbreaking cancer research and prevention programs and services in Texas. CPRIT's goal is to expedite innovation and commercialization in the area of cancer research and to enhance access to evidence-based prevention programs and services throughout the state.