Three Grants Presented to UAMS Cancer Researchers

By Spencer Watson


Feb. 5, 2015 | Three newly awarded grants will assist scientists at UAMS in their search for novel cancer treatments.


The three grants of $10,000 each were presented to young investigators at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute by the Envoys, a volunteer advocacy group of the Cancer Institute Foundation, during their “Doctor is In” reception and research poster showcase Jan. 29.


The grants are made possible by the Envoys’ annual RockStar Lounge fundraiser. This year’s event is set for April 17 at Rock Town Distillery in Little Rock.


“We are grateful to the Envoys for providing this essential funding for our young scientists,” said Cancer Institute Director Peter Emanuel, M.D. “With these start-up funds, they are able to establish the preliminary data needed to secure additional larger grants in the future.”


Recipients of the grants were:

  • Aime Franco, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in the UAMS College of Medicine
  • Gunnar Boysen, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health in the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health
  • Zhifu Xiang, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology in the UAMS College of Medicine


Franco, who is a two-time Seeds of Science grant recipient, will use her award to continue a research project titled “The Pathogenesis of Thyroid Cancer.” Franco’s original Seeds of Science grant in 2013 was used to identify a tumor suppressive microenvironment in follicular thyroid cancer, representing new potential therapeutic targets for the disease.


With her new grant, Franco hopes to expand these findings by identifying the immune suppressive tumor microenvironment factors associated with papillary thyroid cancer that progress to poorly differentiated and anaplastic thyroid cancers, which are particularly deadly forms of the disease. 


Boysen’s project, titled “Systems Biology Base Diagnosis of Circulating Lung Tumor Cells” will examine how metabolism contributes to the growth and spread of tumors and whether metabolic alterations can be used to improve individualized therapy for lung cancer patients.


In his research project titled “Using Next-Generation RNA Sequencing to Identify the Novel Fusion Genes that may be Responsible to Myeloproliferative Phenotype,” Xiang will perform RNA sequencing to identify the potential fusion gene that may contribute to the development and progression of myeloproliferative disease, a condition which can progress to acute leukemia.


In addition to the grant presentation, the event included a research poster showcase in which UAMS cancer researchers displayed posters outlining their work and discussed their findings with guests.