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Texas Organization Donates Millions to UT Austin Cancer-Fighting Research

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Cancer cells.

AUSTIN, Texas — Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin will head into September, childhood cancer awareness month, with nearly $5 million in new cancer prevention funding from the State of Texas.

The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awarded grants to professors from the College of Natural Sciences, Dell Medical School and the Cockrell School of Engineering.

Chemistry professor Jennifer Brodbelt received $3.7 million in funding to create an imaging facility that will help cancer researchers more closely study tissues and cells. The facility will incorporate mass spectrometry and other techniques to image and characterize biological samples in greater molecular detail. Brodbelt is partnering with two other leaders in the field, assistant chemistry professor Livia Eberlin and proteomics facility director Maria Person, to create the facility. A space for the new imaging equipment has not been chosen.

Close to $1 million of the CPRIT funding is dedicated to outreach, prevention and screening efforts spearheaded by Michael Pignone at Dell Medical School. Pignone’s outreach efforts will encourage smoking cessation and lung cancer screening in vulnerable adult patients. A similar grant from CPRIT in 2018 allowed Dell Med to pilot a program that increased colorectal cancer screenings among CommUnityCare patients from 18% to 41%.

“Our goal is to fill a significant gap in cancer prevention across Central Texas, especially among people facing financial and access barriers to these critical preventive services,” said Pignone, chair of Dell Med’s Department of Internal Medicine and director of the Program on Cancer Prevention and Control at the medical school’s LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes. “A big part of this effort also involves raising community awareness so that eventually, everyone who needs screening receives it.”

Jennifer Maynard, a chemical engineering professor who specializes in biotechnology and immunology, also received $200,000 in funding for her research in pediatric brain cancer. The funds will help Maynard develop nanosized immunotherapies to treat medulloblastoma, a tumor located in the part of the brain that controls balance and coordination. Medulloblastoma accounts for almost 20% of pediatric brain tumors and occurs most frequently in children between the ages of 3 and 8.

This year, CPRIT awarded 71 grants to researchers across the state, totaling $136 million.