Idea Grants

Pelotonia Research Award Program

Innovative thinking leads to advances in science, but government funding is hard to obtain for the early pursuit of such initiatives. Through the Pelotonia Research Award Program, teams of creative scientists at Ohio State can apply for “idea” grants to help them start projects that can later attract larger external grants. In 2011-12, 13 teams representing collaborations among six University colleges received “idea” grants via a peer-review process conducted by scientists not competing for the awards. Here is a list of “idea” grants funded from October 2011-October 2012, their principal investigators and a brief description of the projects:

Maryam Lustberg, MD; Courtney DeVries, PhD

Chemotherapy-Induced Cognitive Deficits
More than 30 percent of breast cancer patients who receive chemotherapy report problems with memory, concentration, attention and understanding during and after treatment. The cause of these problems is poorly understood, and there is no effective treatment. These researchers hypothesize that chemotherapy leads to inflammation of certain brain cells, altering their structure and function, which causes cognitive problems. This study will be the first to test the idea that inflammation of neurons contributes to cognitive impairment.

Don Benson, MD, PhD; Flavia Pichiorri, PhD

The Role of Microvesicles in Multiple Myeloma: Elucidating Mechanisms of Disease Propagation and Immune Suppression and Novel Targets for Intervention
Multiple myeloma (MM) is a cancer of white blood cells called plasma cells. MM cells require growth factors and other substances produced by normal bone-marrow cells for their growth and survival. The interactions between MM and cells could be important therapeutic targets, but little is known about how they occur. These researchers believe that microvesicles – tiny particles sometimes given off by cells – might serve as important messengers between MM and normal cells.

Chang-Hyuk Kwon, PhD; Sung Ok Yoon, PhD

The Role of RAC1 GTPase in Astrocytoma Initiation
Malignant astrocytomas are highly fatal brain or spinal tumors with no effective treatment. To find better therapies, scientists must understand how astrocytomas begin. Evidence suggests the regulation of oxygen radicals – unstable oxygen molecules that react with other molecules in the cell – is critical for tumor initiation, but how oxygen radical levels are regulated is unclear. Using an astrocytoma mouse model, this study will examine genes called RAC1 and PRDX4, which help regulate oxygen radicals in cells.

Miguel Villalona, MD

Combined EGFR and BRAF Blockade in Patients with Advanced Malignancies and BRAF-Mutant Tumors
Metastatic melanoma often has mutations that overactivate a cancer-causing gene called BRAF. Drugs called BRAF inhibitors target the overactive gene and can help these patients. Similar BRAF mutations are found in other cancers, including thyroid, colorectal and non-small-cell lung cancer. BRAF inhibitors might also help these patients, but these cancers often have high levels of the EGFR molecule, which often helps them resist BRAF inhibitors. This study tests the use of a BRAF inhibitor plus an EGFR inhibitor in patients with colorectal cancer, non-small-cell lung cancer and other solid tumors with BRAF mutations.

Lisa Yee, MD

Eicosanoids as Biomarkers of Dietary w-3 Fatty Acid Exposure and Response
Evidence indicates low levels of inflammation, which occur with metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes, can raise breast-cancer risk. There is also evidence that omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil and fatty fish, can reduce inflammation. This project analyzes biospecimens collected during two omega-3 fatty acid intervention studies in women at high risk for breast cancer. Findings will provide data to support the start of a breast-cancer prevention trial of omega-3 fatty acids in high-risk women.

Charles Shapiro, MD; Erin Olson, MD

The Impact of Stromal PTEN Status on Pathological Complete Response Rates to Neoadjuvant Dual HER2- Targeted Therapy
Solid tumors contain cancer and noncancer (stromal) cells. Evidence shows that genetic changes in stromal cells can influence behavior of cancer cells and vice versa. For example, mouse mammary tumors grow faster when stromal cells have low levels of the PTEN protein. About half of human breast-cancer patients have low PTEN levels. This study will determine whether women with HER2- postive breast cancers that have higher versus lower PTEN levels in stromal cells have higher or lower remission rates after treatment with the drugs trastuzumab and lapatinib, compared to breast tumors having normal stromal PTEN levels.

Suithra Vas, MBBS; Jianhua Yu, PhD

Decitabine Followed by NK-Cell Immunotherapy for Treatment of Elderly Patients With AML
In patients older than 60, acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a devastating disease, with five-year survival rates below 10 percent. Allogeneic (from a donor) bone marrow transplantation extends life in many AML patients, but many elderly patients are ineligible for that therapy. This study tests whether treating older AML patients with a DNA hypomethylating agent called decitabine, plus infusions of cancer-fighting immune cells called NK-cells, might improve their therapy.

Amy Ferketich, PhD; Eric Seiber, PhD

Testing the Feasibility of a Contingency Management Intervention to Encourage Medicaid-Enrolled Smokers to Quit
Contingency management (CM) interventions use an incentive, usually a reward, to encourage people to change a behavior. This pilot study tests the use of a CM intervention to promote tobacco abstinence among Medicaid-enrolled smokers in Appalachia Ohio. The researchers will use data from this study to apply for National Institutes of Health funding to study a tobaccodependence treatment intervention for Medicaid smokers that will include a CM component.

Thomas Schmittgen, PhD; Vincenzo Coppola, MD

Pancreas-Specific microRNA Knockout for Tumorigenesis Study
Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal forms of cancer. Recent evidence suggests that noncoding microRNAs (miRNAs) might play an important role in initiating this disease. This study tests whether the loss of two miRNAs, miR-216 and miR-217, contributes to the development of pancreatic cancer (which would mean that they function as tumor suppressors in this disease). The findings will provide fundamental information about the role of these two miRNAs in pancreatic cancer development and progression.

Michael Tweedle, PhD; Josh Goldberger, PhD

PA-Cancer MRI Agents That Self-Assemble in Malignant Tumors
Getting anticancer drugs and imaging agents selectively into tumors and not healthy tissue remains a challenge. Many drugs target receptors on the cancer-cell surface, but cancer cells mutate rapidly, altering receptor structure and allowing tumors to escape receptor-targeted drugs. These investigators have developed a peptide amphiphile (PA) molecule that does not rely on specific receptors for delivering imaging agents and anticancer drugs to tumors. The researchers will refine the PA structure and demonstrate that the molecule will be selectively retained in tumors in an animal model.

Yael Vodovotz, PhD; Steven Clinton, MD, PhD; Steven Schwartz, PhD; Chris Weghorst, PhD; Dennis Pearl, PhD

Phytochemical Release Rate From Black Raspberry Confections Alters Gene Expression and Chemical Profiles Relevant to Inhibition of Oral Carcinogenesis
These investigators are developing a strategy for preventing oral cancer in people at high risk for the disease by using formulations of black raspberries, which have been shown to have anticancer activity. The researchers have developed a series of confections that release black raspberry phytochemicals in the mouth at varying rates. This study will support a clinical trial involving 60 healthy adults who will use the confections over two weeks at two doses of black raspberry phytochemicals released at three different rates.

Srevne Clinton, MD, PhD; Subha Raman, MD; Orlando Simonetti, PhD; Brian Focht, PhD

Impact of Androgen Deprivation Therapy on Cardiac Function in Prostate Cancer Patients
Androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) is often a component of therapy intended to cure men with high-risk localized prostate cancer or to limit the progression of metastatic disease. But ADT is also linked to loss of skeletal muscle mass, lower bone mineral density, greater risk of metabolic syndrome, and a fatigue syndrome – effects that cause declines in performance status and quality of life. These researchers are currently doing NIH-funded research to quantify these declines in performance and quality of life in men on ADT, and to identify a diet/exercise program to prevent the declines. This cardiac-function study complements that work.

Hiranmoy Das, PhD; Charles Shapiro, MD

Developing a Combination Therapy Using ATM Inhibitor and γδ T Cells for Breast Cancer
Studies by these researchers have shown that a subtype of immune cell, called γδ T cells, limits the growth of multiple subtypes of breast-cancer cells by triggering apoptosis, a natural form of cell death. The researchers also have shown that γδ T cells can inhibit tumor growth in at least one type of breast cancer in an animal model and determined the mechanism by which γδ T cells trigger cell death. In this study, they will examine whether drugs called ATM inhibitors, combined with γδ T cells, can better control tumor growth in an animal model than current treatments.

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