Pelotonia Idea Grants Help Researchers Pursue Fresh Approaches

Bold, insightful ideas fuel cancer research, but those ideas will go no further than a researcher’s notebook without funding. Unfortunately, funding for innovative ideas can be difficult to acquire.

For researchers at the OSUCCC – James, Pelotonia-funded Idea Grants help to resolve that dilemma.

Idea Grants encourage teams of faculty scientists to pursue original ideas and break new ground in research-based treatment. Researchers can apply twice a year for funds to support studies that test their hypotheses and produce data needed to apply later for larger grants from such external sources as the National Cancer Institute.

Over the past eight years, 134 OSUCCC – James research teams have received Pelotonia-funded Idea Grants collectively totaling $13.8 million. These competitive grants provide support for two years and for up to $200,000 each. The awards represent the work of researchers across eight colleges at Ohio State plus Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

“We are able to maintain momentum in moving strong emerging research ideas forward thanks in large part to funds raised by the dedicated community of Pelotonia riders, virtual riders, volunteers and corporate sponsors,” says OSUCCC Director Raphael Pollock, MD, PhD, a medical scientist who also rides in Pelotonia.

Here are examples of Pelotonia Idea Grants awarded in a recent funding cycle. They are listed along with their principal investigators.

Biomarkers to Predict Endometrial Cancer Recurrence

Ashley Felix HeadshotAshley Felix, PhD, MPH, College of Public Health; OSUCCC – James Cancer Control Program

Endometrial (uterine) cancer is the most common cancer of the female reproductive tract. Following primary treatment, women are at risk of the cancer returning, most commonly in the vagina.

Clinicians need tools to predict which women will experience a vaginal recurrence so they can provide the most appropriate treatment, but no such prediction tools exist. In this study, OSUCCC – James researchers are trying to identify molecular biomarkers for disease recurrence by studying vaginal tampon blood samples from patients diagnosed with endometrial cancer.

Understanding Pathways to Treatment Resistance

Anne StroheckerAnne Strohecker, PhD, College of Medicine, Department of Cancer Biology and Genetics; OSUCCC – James Molecular Biology and Cancer Genetics Program

Scientists know that cancer cells exploit the body’s natural cellular process of breaking down and recycling cellular material—a process called autophagy—to meet their increased energy needs.

Through laboratory experiments, this study seeks to understand autophagy pathways that disrupt and undermine the effectiveness of cancer treatment regimens. These researchers will look at the impact of “turning off” a specific gene involved in autophagy in an established model of non-small cell lung cancer.

Drug Therapy to Stop Severe Muscle Loss in Patients

Christopher CossChristopher Coss, PhD, College of Pharmacy; OSUCCC – James Molecular Carcinogenesis and Chemoprevention Program

The involuntary loss of skeletal muscle and fat tissue associated with many types of cancer is called cancer cachexia. This occurs in more than half of advanced cancer cases, reducing both the quality and length of a patient’s life.

There are no U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved treatments to combat cachexia, but OSUCCC – James researchers have discovered a combination of drugs that shows promise in treating it. In this project, scientists seek to understand how to make this combination most effective while also reducing potential side effects.

The drugs have already undergone some clinical evaluation, and the scientists hope this work will result in an early-stage clinical trial to test this combination therapy in patients with advanced cancer.

Deepen Understanding of Suppressor Cells’ Role in Cancer Therapy

Xuefeng BaiXue-feng Bai, PhD, College of Medicine, Department of Pathology; OSUCCC – James Translational Therapeutics Program

Cells of the immune system called myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSC) can inhibit the body’s immune response to foreign and transformed cells. Scientists therefore believe that MDSC play an important role in cancer progression.

Researchers designed this study to gain insights into the role of MDSC and a natural antitumor substance called IL-27 in cancer progression. They also hope to identify molecular targets for the development of therapies that will capitalize on both mechanisms and ultimately improve cancer treatment.

Improving Immune-Based Treatments for Cancer

William CarsonWilliam Carson, MD, College of Medicine, Department of Surgery; OSUCCC – James Translational Therapeutics Program

This project focuses on understanding and improving mechanisms by which the immune system can recognize and eliminate cancer cells. This research team will look at how immune-suppressor cells function and which suppressor cells are elevated in cancer patients.

The researchers hypothesize that the effectiveness of immune-based anticancer treatments could be improved by eliminating or “turning off” these suppressor cells. Information gleaned from this study may help scientists reduce the side effects that patients experience as a result of current and new immunotherapies.

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