UAMS Scientists Awarded Grants for Cancer Research

By Susan Van Dusen

The three grants of $10,000 each were presented to investigators Jan. 26 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.

The grants are made possible by the Envoys’ annual RockStar Lounge fundraiser. This year’s event is set for April 7 at Cajun’s Wharf in Little Rock and will feature a performance by Resurrection — A Journey Tribute.

“Thanks to the support of the Envoys, our scientists can receive start-up funds to propel their research forward. The preliminary data these funds help establish will assist them in applying for larger grants in the future,” said Cancer Institute Director Peter Emanuel, M.D.

Recipients of the grants were:

  • Gunnar Boysen, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health in the UAMS College of Public Health for “Targeting Cancer Metabolism to Improve Lung Cancer Therapy”
  • Ping-Ching Hsu, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology in the UAMS College of Public Health for “Metabolomic Profiling from the Arkansas Cardiovascular Health Examination Survey (ARCHES)”
  • Rajan Gogna, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pathology in the UAMS College of Medicine for “Immune-targeting Flower Code, a Key Regulator for Tissue Fitness and Oncogenesis”

Boysen’s research seeks to understand how tumor metabolism contributes to tumor growth. His previous laboratory research has shown that the enzyme glutaminase is essential for production of the antioxidant glutathione (GSH) and growth of lung tumor cells. His grant funding will assist in further determining the importance of GSH in lung tumor cells.

Hsu’s project addresses Arkansas’ high death rate from smoking-related cancers by investigating the metabolic impact from cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products in human blood. Her study aims to provide feasibility data for a larger study representative of adult Arkansans and help inform clinical and community studies to reduce the risk of tobacco-caused diseases.

Gogna’s research focuses on the process called cell competition, during which cancer cells acquire space and nutrition for growth by killing their neighboring cells. During this process, cancer cells and normal cells communicate and compare their relative fitness levels through the help of a protein called Flower. Cancer cells express a form of the Flower protein called Win, while normal cells express a form called Lose. Gogna’s lab now seeks to discover if blocking this Win-Lose interaction between cancer and normal cells can serve as an anti-cancer and chemo-preventative strategy. ​

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.