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University of Iowa News Release

May 22, 2006

Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center Awards Three Seed Grants

From proteins to psychosocial factors, University of Iowa researchers are studying a variety of possible cancer-related culprits, thanks to grants from the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI. On May 1, the center awarded a total of $80,000 in one-year seed grants to three researchers in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

Two of the awards are American Cancer Society (ACS) seed grants, which help junior faculty members and independent research scientists initiate cancer research careers and fund studies related to cancer causes, prevention and therapy. The third award is the center's 2006 Diana Benz Memorial Fund Seed Grant, which supports studies related to psychosocial issues, complementary and alternative medicine, and other quality-of-life issues for cancer patients and survivors.

Jon Houtman, Ph.D., UI assistant professor of microbiology, received a $30,000 ACS seed grant for his research team to study how LAT, a protein needed for immune function, is stimulated. LAT plays a role in acute lymphoblastic leukemia and graft-versus-host disease, a major complication of bone marrow transplantation. The research could lead to ways to alter LAT function that will be essential for treating these debilitating diseases.

A team led by Peter Nagy, M.D., Ph.D., UI assistant professor of pathology, also received a $30,000 ACS seed grant. The researchers will look for mutations in a group of enzymes called histone methyltransferases. Some of these enzymes are know to cause cancer but most have not yet been tested for mutations. By understanding how these enzymes may contribute to sporadic cancers, it may be possible to identify which cancers might be successfully treated with methyltransferase inhibitors.

Tim Ratliff, Ph.D., UI professor of urology and the Andersen-Hebbeln Professor of Prostate Cancer Research, received a $20,000 Diana Benz Memorial Fund seed grant. His team will study the effect of positive and negative psychosocial factors on platelet activation and inflammation in bladder cancer. Platelets are cells needed for normal blood clotting, and it already is known that over-activated platelets can cause chronic inflammation and immunosuppression in cancer patents. The team will study whether negative psychosocial factors such as depression, distress, anger and life stress activate platelets and cause more inflammation and whether, in contrast, positive factors such as social support may be linked, to less inflammation.

The Diana Benz Memorial Fund honors the memory of Benz, who received care at the UI. Houtman, Nagy and Ratliff are all research members of the Holden Center.

The Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center is Iowa's only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer center. NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers 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 center online at

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at





STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5137 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 5224-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: Becky Soglin, 319 335-6660