Research and IdeasProfessor Receives Grant for Innovative Cancer Research

Contact Christine Chen at [email protected]

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As part of a program supporting new innovators, the National Institutes of Health announced last week a $1.5 million grant to be awarded to a UC Berkeley researcher studying processes controlling cell division and how it works in cancer cells.

Michael Rape, assistant professor of cell and developmental biology, was among 29 candidates chosen from a sea of nearly 2,200 applicants in the institutes’ first ever New Innovator Award program. The program focuses on providing money to support research goals that have the potential to impact people on a large scale and change their field of study.

Rape’s five-year grant will apply his current research, which looks at how the breakdown of proteins contributes to cell cycle regulation, to work on inhibiting cancer cells from multiplying in these specific tissues.

Rape’s research focuses primarily on the enzyme APC, the anaphase-promoting complex, and how it functions. Once the enzyme is inhibited, all cell division stops.

Currently the drug Taxol, which is used for some cancer treatments, is based on the same principle of inhibiting an enzyme. The drug treatment is usually paired with chemotherapy, which can dramatically weaken the cancer patient’s immunity, Rape said.

Rape said he plans to apply the process of inhibiting cell growth to stop cancer cell divisions in specific tissues, rather than halt cell divisions throughout the body. This will likely result in fewer side effects during chemotherapy, thereby increasing the therapy’s chance of success.

In order to accomplish this, researchers aim to locate important enzymes in specific tissues and devise a small molecule that inhibits the enzyme specific to the tissue, Rape said.

Starting with breast tissue and colon tissue, Rape said the research can expand to studying more enzymes in different tissues. Such research could help in treating other types of cancers.

Jeremy Berg, director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, said that in terms of the stated goals of the innovators’ program, the research proposals had to show great potential to transform the nature of research in order to receive a grant.

“Candidates within 10 years of getting their PhD are invited to submit applications describing a research goal that is more high-impact than a program traditionally supported through NIH research grants,” Berg said.

Each application in the review process was reviewed independently by three judges. Rape’s proposal received strong reviews by the judges, according to Berg.

Few other research proposals were as specific and had as practical a target, Rape added.

“If the research is successful, it will be not just incremental small change, but something more dramatic,” Berg said.


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