U of L’s Largest Federal Research Grant Ever

A drug that inhibits the growth of an enzyme that is over-produced by cancer cells ... Groundbreaking X-ray technology to study cancer-related molecules in three dimensions .. Attacking tumor cells while protecting healthy tissue ...

These are some of the progressive research projects at the University of Louisville’sJames Graham Brown Cancer Center that will be furthered by the largest federal research grant in university history.

The $11.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will help five investigators at the cancer center complete preliminary research.

"These are the very best young scientists in the country," says Donald M. Miller, director of the Brown Cancer Center. "Their success will be crucial to taking our center where we want to go."

The grant, which is part of the NIH’s Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) program, is intended to give talented young researchers the opportunity to produce initial data in new fields of study so that they may quickly seek individual federal research support, allowing the recruitment of new faculty with released COBRE funding.

The five most recently funded scientists are:

  • Dr. Jason Chesney, an assistant professor of medicine who has discovered an enzyme that is over-produced by cancer cells. Plans to develop a drug to inhibit the growth of the enzyme are underway.
  • Pawel Kozlowski, an assistant professor of chemistry who is working to make bleomycins, a class of cancer drugs, more effective in their attack on certain tumor cells and less toxic to healthy tissue.
  • Robert Mitchell, an assistant professor of medicine and biochemistry who is developing a novel cancer drug to inhibit a key growth factor in malignant cells.
  • Brian Wattenberg, an associate professor of medicine who is studying the overproduction of the enzyme sphingosine-kinase in hope that an increased understanding of the phenomena will lead to the development of new ways to control it.
  • Hong Ye, an assistant professor of medicine and expert in X-ray crystallography who will study cancer-related molecules in three dimensions to develop drugs that specifically target them.
John Eaton (seated), deputy director or the James Graham Brown Cancer Center, with the investigators who will complete preliminary research with help from the latest grant—(from the left) Robert Mitchell, Jason Chesney, Brian "Binks" Wattenberg and Pawel Kozlowski. (Not Present is Hong Ye.)

The grant is the third award U of L has received under COBRE, which directs funding to schools in states that in the past have received little federal money for medical research. The program also awarded U of L $8.2 million last year to study the causes of birth defects and $8.5 million in 2000 for spinal cord injury research.

COBRE funds are for researchers who have not previously won NIH grants. The money is intended to help them develop projects to the point where they can successfully compete for NIH funding on their own.

If the scientists sharing the latest grant go on to win individual funding, the remaining money will be used to recruit new researchers and fund their work.

It already has worked out that way with the spinal cord injury research grant. Two of the four scientists funded with that grant three years ago now have received their own NIH grants, worth nearly $2 million. The original funding is being used now to fund two new scientists.

The cancer center may be able to support 10 to 12 new faculty through the latest COBRE grant, according to Miller. The grant also will help the center in its goal to earn designation as a comprehensive cancer center from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). A comprehensive cancer center combines excellence in research and education as well as patient care.

Thanks to this latest $11.1 million grant, “National Cancer Institute designation for the Brown Cancer Center is much closer today,” says Joel Kaplan, executive vice president and chancellor for health sciences at U of L.

Achieving NCI comprehensive cancer center designation is a main goal of the university and could bring increased research funding and cancer treatment options to Louisville.

U of L President James R. Ramsey says the cancer center has met every goal it has set for itself well ahead of schedule, “making the program a perfect example of yet another Bucks for Brains success.”

Miller and other key members of the cancer center leadership team were attracted by Bucks for Brains and support from the James Graham Brown Foundation and in turn brought new federal research support and other funding—as well as new jobs and health-care services—to the state. Bucks for Brains is the informal name of the program—created through Kentucky’s higher education reform legislation passed in 1997—that matches state money with private private money to recruit scholars to U of L, the University of Kentucky and other state universities.

“The community's investment in the James Graham Brown Cancer Center continues to pay dividends—economically, scientifically and clinically,” Ramsey says.

The university will receive $42.2 million (not including this latest grant) in research funding from the federal government this year, up $5.1 million from last year’s $37.1 million and more than four times the $9.4 million U of L researchers received in 1997.



U of L’s Largest Federal Grant Ever

Petrino Brings His Explosive Offense Back to The Ville

U of L and Louisville Metro —A Partnership

Citizen University —The Inauguration of James R. Ramsey

Return to U of L magazine home

Magazine Staff | Advertising | Past Issues

Quick Links
Return to U of L Home