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Release: Dec. 18, 2002

UI investigators receive American Cancer Society seed grants

Six researchers with the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa have received American Cancer Society (ACS) "seed" grants, which are made to junior faculty and independent research scientists to help initiate their careers in cancer research.

The young investigators will use the funds to explore promising ideas related to the causes, prevention and treatment of cancer. George Weiner, M.D., director of the center and C.E. Block Professor of Cancer Research and Internal Medicine, announced Dec. 1 that the six investigators, representing five different UI departments, were each awarded one-year, $20,000 grants.

Prabhat C. Goswami, Ph.D., assistant professor of radiation oncology, will study manipulating reactive oxygen species (ROS) in order to improve cancer treatment. Cancer therapies, including ionizing radiation, are known to produce ROS. "Because reactive oxygen species seem to be involved in many cellular processes, including radiation response, a detailed understanding of the possible role of ROS in cancer therapy outcome is highly essential," Goswami said. Increasing the amount of ROS could make tumor cells more vulnerable to radiotherapy. Using gene therapy to change the amount of a certain antioxidant enzyme in cancer cells, the team will study the effect of over-producing ROS on cancer therapy outcome. "Such a combination of gene and radiation therapies could lead to better cancer treatment," Goswami said.

Jonathan Heusel, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology, was awarded funds to study how human natural killer (NK) cells are activated. NK cells are lymphocyctes (white blood cell) that are critically important in defense against certain viral infections. In addition, NK cells are involved in other conditions, including pregnancy, and in beneficial activities for some bone marrow transplant recipients -- reducing graft-vs.-host disease and graft-vs.-leukemia effects (so-called "NK alloreactivity"), Heusel explained. "NK cells themselves may be transformed during viral infection, giving rise to an aggressive leukemia or lymphoma," Heusel said. "Dissecting the specific NK cell receptors and their activating ligands is the next logical step in understanding how NK cells participate in immune responses. These mechanisms underlie NK cell activation in all of these physiologic and pathologic phenomena."

Badrinath Konety, M.D., assistant professor of urology, received funds for a project to examine the long-term impact of various treatments for different types of bladder cancer on the quality of life for patients. "Superficial bladder cancer is prone to reoccur, requiring multiple courses of treatment which may have a cumulative impact on the patient's quality of life," Konety said. "Likewise, advanced bladder cancer requiring removal of the bladder or radiation can also significantly impact the patient's self-image and quality of life even for years after treatment."


Russell Smith, M.D., assistant professor of otolaryngology, received a grant to evaluate human papillomavirus (HPV) in hypopharyngeal and laryngeal squamous cell carcinoma. Preliminary evidence suggests that, in addition to alcohol and tobacco use, viral infection, specifically HPV, may contribute to some head and neck cancers, Smith said. This study will evaluate the role of HPV infection in cancerous cells lining the hypopharynx, which is the bottom part of the throat, and the larynx, or "voice box," which includes the vocal cords. "The results of this study may allow us to modify current therapy for hypopharyngeal and laryngeal cancers, which may include vaccine therapy in the future," Smith said.

Thomas Warren, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine, received an award for a pilot study on dendritic cell generation and immunobiology. Using the immune system to fight cancer is a rapidly growing approach in cancer treatment. A special type of immune cell called a dendritic cell can potently "rev up" the immune system to fight cancer. "My research study will focus on how to make dendritic cells from precursor cells in patient's blood, and we will then use this information to design clinical trials," Warren said.


James Wooldridge, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine, received support for his project on the impact of CpG-ODN in relapsed or progressive chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). In this cancer, abnormal lymphocytes, or white blood cells, accumulate in the blood, bone marrow and lymph system. Normal lymphocytes help clear infection; however, the overabundance of abnormal lymphocytes blocks the production of red blood cells and platelets, and makes patients susceptible to infection. This study will examine the effects of DNA-containing CpG sequences on CLL cells to better understand how such agents might interact with monoclonal antibodies as a treatment. "Monoclonal antibodies, such as rituximab and alemtuzumab, are effective agents for treating chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and our goal is to determine if CpG-ODN can enhance that activity," Wooldridge said.

The American Cancer Society (ACS), based in Atlanta, has state divisions and more than 3,400 local offices. Visit ACS online at

The Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center is Iowa's only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer center. NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers like the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center are recognized as the leaders in developing new approaches to cancer prevention and cancer care, conducting leading-edge research and educating the public about cancer. Visit the cancer center online at

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