UAMS Researchers Awarded $3.8M For 3 Projects

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Jesus Delgado-Calle, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, has been awarded a National Cancer Institute grant of more than $1.7 million to study ways bone therapy might repair damaged bone and prevent or delay relapse in myeloma patients.

It’s the third grant UAMS has announced in the past week.

Justin Leung, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Radiation Oncology, received a five-year, $1.9 million grant to research DNA damage response in cancer and genetic disorders.

And Zijing Zhang, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow, was awarded a two-year, $200,000 grant from the Global Consortium for Reproductive Longevity and Equality to study how biological changes in the ovary due to aging can influence reproduction

Myeloma Project

Delgado-Calle said in a news release that the goal of his project “is to slow tumor growth, control dormant cancer cells, repair bone damaged by the disease, and avoid some of the toxic effects of chemotherapy within the body’s systems.”

“We will study the effectiveness of a novel bone-targeted drug designed by our lab to interrupt the signaling pathway between cancer cells and tumor’s microenvironment to decrease tumor growth and relapse of the disease,” he explained.

The researchers will also examine the ability to promote bone repair of a neutralizing antibody against sclerostin, a small protein that prevents the rebuilding of bone and is overproduced in bones where myeloma cancer cells are present.

DNA Project

Leung’s project is called “Deciphering the Chromatin-based DNA Damage Response Pathway.”

He said in a news release, “DNA damage is a constant threat to our genetic material, so our bodies evolved a surveillance system called the DDR pathway. This pathway maintains our genome integrity by protecting our cells from damage to the genetic information that results in mutations and cell malignancies.”

His grant, called the R35 Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award, will be used to build a roadmap of the DDR pathway. The study will potentially provide insight into the causes of cancer and DDR-related genetic diseases. It could also help to develop therapeutic strategies for cancer treatment.

Leung said, “Our lab aims to understand how cells precisely repair DNA damage at the right place and right time. We will investigate how the DDR is initiated and the mechanism by which DNA repair proteins are brought to the DNA breaks.”

Reproduction Project

Zhang, who is working under Dr. Michael Birrer, vice chancellor and director of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, received the Consortium’s Postdoctoral Scholar Award as well as the grant.

She was one of eight award recipients and one of 22 researchers nationally to receive a portion of a $7.4 million grant.

“I’m very grateful for the support of my proposed project, which seeks to better understand how immune cells might influence the biological processes in the ovary and the ovarian tissue environment during aging,” Zhang said in a news release.

Her previous research found differences in a population of immune cells, called macrophages, as ovaries age. Low-grade chronic inflammation in the ovaries has also been associated with aging. Because macrophages play a role in inflammatory reactions, Zhang hopes to explore what role they play in reproductive health as ovaries start to deteriorate and ultimately cease to function during aging, according to the release.