Cultivating Innovation

Pelotonia idea grants nurture original ideas to move progress

All the money raised by Pelotonia cyclists supports cancer research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

Part of that money supports OSUCCC – James idea grants, which provide two years of support to teams of OSUCCC – James scientists. The grants are competitive. The researchers propose studies that will break new research ground and generate data that will help them garner grants for larger, more definitive studies.

Since the program’s inception, funding has been awarded to 89 research teams. The collaborating researchers come from several Ohio State colleges and departments and three academic institutions, including Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Idea grants are designed to break new ground and hasten the development of safer, more effective treatments and improved prevention strategies. Here are three examples of the Pelotonia idea grants awarded in 2015.

Developing More Precise Treatments for Prostate Cancer

Qianben WangSteven ClintonMale hormones such as testosterone are known as androgens. Decades of research have shown that androgens are necessary for the development and progression of prostate cancer. The hormones bind to androgen receptors in prostate-cancer cells, and the hormone-receptor complex then activates a set of genes that cause the cancer cells to grow.

Drugs that block androgen receptors so that androgen hormones can’t activate them can often control the disease for a time, but prostate tumors eventually develop a capacity to grow without help from androgen hormones. At that point, antiandrogen drugs lose their effectiveness.

To improve the treatment of any cancer, it is essential to understand the biology of the disease. For prostate cancer it was believed that when an antiandrogen drug is bound to androgen receptors, the drug-receptor complex blocks the same cancer-promoting genes that are activated by the hormone-receptor complex.

However, recent research by these OSUCCC – James investigators found that antiandrogen-receptor complexes actually activate a different set of genes that include cancer-promoting genes.

With help from a Pelotonia idea grant, these researchers are carrying out studies that are based on this new understanding of prostate-cancer biology. Their work could bring new knowledge about how androgens promote prostate-cancer growth and how resistance develops to particular antiandrogen drugs.

Their ultimate goal is to identify therapeutic targets in prostate-cancer cells and to develop more precise, personal and effective treatments for prostate cancer.

Searching for the Source of CLL

Natarajan MuthusamyL James LeeChronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is the second most common leukemia in the United States, with an estimated 14,600 new cases in 2015, along with 4,650 deaths from the disease. Great progress has been made in the treatment of CLL—including promising targeted agents such as ibrutinib, which was developed with much assistance from research at the OSUCCC – James, work that was supported in part by Pelotonia funds.

But even with these advances, the disease remains incurable. CLL patients invariably relapse, and relapsed CLL is particularly resistant to treatment. Furthermore, why and how a relapse occurs is poorly understood. The problem is challenging in part because the source of the cell from which CLL originates remains unknown.

The existence of a leukemic stem cell is widely accepted in acute myeloid leukemia and certain other leukemias, but the existence of a CLL stem-like cell remains controversial.

This OSUCCC – James research team is using a Pelotonia idea grant to hunt for the elusive cell in bone marrow samples from CLL patients using a 3D nanochannel electroporation technique in combination with molecular probes. The new nanotechnology platform will better enable them to identify rare cells that display a particular combination of marker molecules.

The researchers hypothesize that the rare cells will include the elusive CLL stem cell and early progenitor cells. Their findings will pave the way for the development of new drugs and therapeutic strategies for treating people with relapsed leukemia.

Improving a Mobile Health Intervention for HPV Vaccination

Mira KatzPaul ReiterHuman papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, with the highest rates of infection in young adults. HPV infection can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulvar, oropharynx, anus and penis, as well as genital warts. HPV vaccines are safe and effective. However, HPV vaccination rates among young adults are low, even though their risk of acquiring HPV is high.

It is recommended that girls and boys receive the HPV vaccine before becoming sexually active, ideally at age 11 or 12. Catch-up vaccination may be given through age 26. Wide use of the vaccine may prevent an estimated 22,000 cases of cancer and more than 300,000 cases of genital warts annually in the United States.

These OSUCCC – James researchers are using a Pelotonia idea grant to increase the use of the vaccine by improving how information about HPV-associated diseases and HPV vaccines is provided to young adults.

Currently, 18 percent of females ages 20 to 24 are infected with a vaccine-preventable HPV type (type 16, 18, 6 or 11). But HPV vaccination rates are especially low among young adults ages 19 to 26. Only about 40 percent of females and 8 percent of males have received the first dose of the three-dose series (2014); fewer females and males have completed the three-dose HPV vaccine series.

Working with Ohio State’s Wilce Student Health Center and with Ohio State students, the researchers are developing and pilot testing gender-specific targeted animated videos about the benefits of HPV vaccination. The study will be conducted using a mobile-friendly website.

The researchers will obtain preliminary data on whether the targeted video increases the number of young adults who receive the HPV vaccine. They think vaccine use will be higher among those who watch the video compared with those given standard HPV vaccine information.

Findings from this study could lead to a randomized clinical trial to test the efficacy of this HPVvaccine intervention at several  universities, which could lead to widespread use.

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