The West Clinic

The West Clinic, Methodist Healthcare, and The University of Tennessee Health Science Center Launch New Cancer Research Funding Program

The West Clinic, Methodist Healthcare, and The University of Tennessee Health Science Center Launch New Cancer Research Funding Program

New Grant Program Offers First Funding for Local Scientists in Translational Cancer Research

December 12, 2012 MEMPHIS, TN The cancer center initiative launched by the collaboration of The West Clinic, Methodist Healthcare and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) has the goal of advancing cancer care, education and research for the patients we serve in Memphis, the Mid-South and beyond. Today, to further the research mission of the cancer center, the partners announced $200,000 in seed research grants awarded to four cancer investigators at UTHSC.  While this is just a small part of the $35 million over seven years that the partners have committed to cancer care and innovation on many levels, these grants are an important step.

The grants just announced (titles below) provide a starting point for partnerships between basic/translational investigators and clinicians, seed money for new projects, and an invaluable forum for innovations of all kinds related to cancer care and education. For example, it is no surprise that two of the grants are in the area of breast cancer, as it is a major cancer burden for women in our region and a major focus of The West Clinic’s clinical program. At the same time, more basic projects in microRNA (small RNA molecules that have a regulatory role in cells) and molecules involved in cell-cell interactions (relevant to local and distal spread of cancers) have also been funded. We applaud the successful investigators and look forward to benefitting from the fruits of their work.

The faculty investigators and summaries of their research projects include:

  • Lawrence M. Pfeffer, PhD: The role of microRNA-21 in human melanoma

Dr. Pfeffer and his research team are working to define new strategies to treat patients with malignant melanoma, a devastating skin disease with limited treatment options. The grant award will be used to investigate the role that miR-21 and its target genes play in human melanoma. It is critical to determine the role of miR-21, a non-protein encoding gene, in cancer cell invasion, apoptosis (programmed cell death) and metastatic potential. The research team will also identify novel miR-21 targets of 250 human cancer-related genes.

  • Zhaohui Wu, MD, PhD: Sensitize breast cancer to chemotherapy by inhibiting NF-kB with PARP inhibitors

Dr. Wu is examining how the PARP1-targeting drug may inhibit chemotherapy-activated reactions in patients with triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). With TNBC, chemotherapy – the only available systemic treatment — may, in effect, cause the cancer to resist drug therapy or encourage the disease to spread. Dr. Wu’s research focuses on ways to improve patient responses to treatment by reducing therapeutic resistance and cancer metastasis. TNBC is an aggressive breast cancer subtype that does not express estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and human growth factor receptor HER2. If a breast cancer is hormone receptor-negative, this means there is a high probability that anti-hormonal therapy will not work to arrest the tumor or any of the cancer that has spread from the original tumor.

  • Tiffany Seagroves, PhD: The Hypoxic Response as a Driver of Triple Negative Breast Cancer Phenotypes

A critical aspect of tumor physiology is the sensation of oxygen. The tumor cells deprived of oxygen (“hypoxic”) are more resistant to chemotherapy or radiation, and are more likely to spread to distant regions of the body (metastasis). The goal of Dr. Seagroves and her research team is to examine if the hypoxic response pathway is required in triple negative breast cancers through the regulation of a rare population of tumor cells. These cells have enhanced abilities to promote tumor growth or metastasis and are highly resistant to therapy. Cells with these features are termed “tumor-initiating cells” and are suspected to be a root cause of relapse and death in cancer patients.

  • Wenqing Qi, PhD: Targeting the Homophilic Carcinoembryonic Cell Adhesion Molecule 6 [CEACAM6] mediated cell-cell interaction

Dr. Qi’s research study addresses the urgent need for novel therapies for patients with a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Carcinoembryonic cell adhesion molecule 6 (CEACAM6) is a novel cancerous target in pancreatic cancer that promotes tumor invasion. If Dr. Qi and his research team are successful, effective treatment will be established in this research area. Since CEACAM6 is also highly over-expressed in colorectal cancer, breast cancer and lung cancer, the data generated from pancreatic cancer studies would easily be translatable to these more common malignancies.

The new grant program will also award an additional $50,000 to residents and fellows to support their cancer research projects.

According to Edward Stepanski, PhD, Chief Operating Officer, ACORN Research, LLC (the research organization supporting  The West Clinic), “This is a very exciting time for cancer research in Memphis. The awarding of these grants underscores the commitment of leading local health care organizations to find new drugs and therapeutic agents to fight cancer. The recipients of these grants are prominent cancer scientists. Our goal is to elevate cancer science locally and ultimately nationally, as well as foster multidisciplinary research between scientists and clinicians. This funding will ensure that resources are dedicated to support cancer research in our community.”

Grant recipients underwent a rigorous peer-review process. Those selected to receive funding are among the most promising scientists.

“This is the first of many opportunities our partnership will develop to improve cancer care in our area by funding outstanding cancer researchers so they can learn more about ways to treat this disease,” affirms Lee S. Schwartzberg, Medical Director, The West Clinic. “Our cancer center initiative will focus on translational and clinical research, quality, integrated cancer care, and education to provide the next generation of cancer scientists and clinicians.”

“We are delighted to be working with Methodist Le Bonheur and The West Clinic to advance cancer care in our region,” said David M. Stern, MD, Executive Dean of the UT College of Medicine and UTHSC Vice Chancellor of Health Affairs. “A focus on research is one of the key ways to do this. Whether it is personalized medicine, analyzing the DNA and gene expression in a tumor, or analysis of mechanisms of tumor growth and metastasis, our cancer center seeks to bring the newest ideas ultimately to patients in the Mid-South. It is expectation that the projects funded through this program will provide data leveraged to secure larger extramural grants.”

“This is just the kind of initiative we wanted to see come from the collaborative cancer center. Research is the basis of tomorrow’s therapies, and the kind of research funded here has great promise for the future,” according to Gary S. Shorb, President and CEO, Methodist Healthcare.

For additional information please contact Sheila Champlin, UTHSC Director of Communications and Marketing at schampli@uthsc.edu or (901) 448-4957.

About The West Clinic

The West Clinic is the Mid-South’s premier provider of cancer care. Over the past 33 years, West Clinic has built a team second to none in breadth of expertise, dedication to excellence, and compassionate care. Our multidisciplinary physician group is comprised of 33 specialists in Medical Oncology, Hematology, Gynecologic Oncology, Breast Surgery, Endocrinology, Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology, Pain and Palliative Care, and other advanced medical care. With eight locations in Memphis, West Tennessee, North Mississippi, and East Arkansas, patients across the Mid-South have greater access to the highest quality care available.

In 2012, The West Clinic formed a novel partnership with Methodist Healthcare and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) to transform cancer care in the Mid-South. The partnership takes advantage of the strengths and cultures of all three partners leading to the development of a fully integrated cancer program which will expand collaborative efforts in cancer research and education with a vision toward personalized precision cancer care.

About The University of Tennessee Health Science Center

As the flagship statewide academic health system, the mission of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) is to bring the benefits of the health sciences to the achievement and maintenance of human health, with a focus on the citizens of Tennessee and the region, by pursuing an integrated program of education, research, clinical care, and public service.  Offering a broad range of postgraduate and selected baccalaureate training opportunities, the main UTHSC campus is located in Memphis and includes six colleges: Allied Health Sciences, Dentistry, Graduate Health Sciences, Medicine, Nursing and Pharmacy.  UTHSC also educates and trains cohorts of medicine, pharmacy and/or allied health students — in addition to medical residents and fellows — at its major sites in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Nashville.  Founded in 1911, during its more than 100 years, UT Health Science Center has educated and trained more than 53,000 health care professionals in academic settings and health care facilities across the state.  For more information, visit www.uthsc.edu.

 About Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare (MLH) is an integrated healthcare delivery system based in Memphis, Tenn.  Founded in 1918 by The United Methodist Church to help meet the growing needs for quality healthcare in the Mid-South, MLH has grown from one hospital into a seven-hospital system that also includes a home health agency, ambulatory surgery centers, outpatient facilities and physician practices serving the Memphis and Mid-South area. For the third year in a row, Methodist was named best hospital in Memphis by US News and World Report. Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare has consistently been named one of the Top 100 Integrated Healthcare Networks in the country. Affiliated with the Memphis, Mississippi and Arkansas Conferences of The United Methodist Church, Methodist Healthcare combines a dedication to the art of healing with a Christ-centered commitment to minister to the whole person. The Memphis hospitals are licensed as one and with 1,689 licensed beds and 60,431 inpatient admissions, Methodist is the third largest private hospital in the country.  With more than 11,000 associates, Methodist is the second largest private employer in Memphis.  Methodist Le Bonheur’s major areas of focus are: cardiology, oncology, neurosciences, transplant, and pediatrics. For more information visit www.methodisthealth.org. or contact Ruth Ann Hale, Director of Media & Community Relations, 901-516-0600,

About ACORN Research, LLC

ACORN Research, LLC is a multifaceted research organization that harmonizes a network of committed oncology research sites supported by centralized research processes, a bioinformatics platform that integrates EMR data with ePRO data to support health outcomes research and clinical trial efficiencies, and a Contract Research Organization focused exclusively on oncology. ACORN Research grew out of the West Clinic and continues to work closely with them to support and enhance research activities.

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