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Higgins Announces More Than $2 Million in Grant Awards to Roswell Park Researchers to Study Breast Cancer Recurrence and to Develop Melanoma Drug

Jul 11, 2017
Press Release

Two researchers at Roswell Park Cancer Institute recently received grants totaling more than $2 million [$2,420,152] from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to investigate an underlying cause of why some breast cancers recur and to develop a new treatment for melanoma.

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26), Co-Chair of the House of Representatives Cancer Caucus, said, “Roswell Park, the nation’s first cancer center, has a long history of innovation and continues to demonstrate a driven resolve to be ahead of the curve on cancer discovery today.  These projects exemplify the need and urgency for adequate federal research funding to supporting new therapies including work like this providing hope to patients facing a very challenging diagnoses.”

Jianmin Zhang, PhD, Associate Professor of Oncology in the Department of Cancer Genetics and Genomics at the Buffalo comprehensive cancer center, received $2 million [$2,002,312] for a prestigious five-year R01 project exploring an underlying mechanism of how breast cancers begin and progress, focusing on the role of a protein known as TAZ in regulating and suppressing breast cancer stem cells.

“The relatively high relapse rate of patients with aggressive forms of breast cancer can be attributed to a small population of cancer stem cells residing within the tumor,” explains Dr. Zhang. “By targeting this notorious population, we may provide novel and highly effective therapeutic strategies.”

His project seeks to determine the roles and underlying mechanisms of TAZ dysfunction in regulating these breast cancer stem cells, breast tumor genesis, and metastasis, eventually applying TAZ-regulated genes in practical use in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Mikhail Nikiforov, PhD, Professor of Oncology and Member of the Department of Cell Stress Biology, received $417,840 for a three-year project to develop a new anticancer drug for melanoma.

“Malignant melanoma is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer,” explains Dr. Nikiforov. “Patients with metastatic melanoma have a survival of approximately 8.5 months, and currently there is no comprehensive melanoma therapy available.”

His project seeks to develop novel anti-melanoma therapeutics targeting the oncoprotein MYC. “This protein is most commonly up-regulated in human malignancies and yet, it’s the one that has never been targeted by drugs in advanced phases of clinical trials,” says Dr. NIkiforov. “We have identified a lead compound that can be developed into the anticancer drug and that has potential to significantly improve management of malignant melanoma in the long term.”

Congressman Higgins, whose district includes Roswell Park Cancer Institute, is also a founding member of the bipartisan National Institutes of Health Caucus and a primary sponsor of the Accelerating Biomedical Research Act.