UAMS Cancer Researchers Receive NIH Grant to Develop New Cancer Therapies

By Linda Haymes

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded the three-year grant to Karen Abbott, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAMS College of Medicine’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Analiz Rodriguez, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAMS College of Medicine’s
Department of Neurosurgery. Abbott is principal investigator for the grant, and Rodriguez is co-investigator.

The pair are researching glycosylation changes, which are found in both ovarian cancer and glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor. Glycosylation is the enzymatic process that attaches glycans (a series of carbohydrates, including the sugars) to proteins, or other organic molecules.

In her previous research, Abbott developed an antibody that targets glycosylation on proteins covering the surface of ovarian cancer cells. The new project involves adapting that protein into a new type of therapy for the disease and examining if it also could serve as an effective therapy for glioblastoma, which shares the same type of glycosylation.

“This research can help us understand the proteins that carry this glycosylation change and how this change promotes signals to keep cancer cells alive. Studying those pathways may lead to new methods to kill the cancer cells but leave the normal ones alone,” said Rodriguez, a neurosurgeon
and researcher.

“With this grant, we will be developing a new type of therapeutic by modifying the current antibody to allow destruction of the cancer cells,” Abbott said.

In their work, Rodriguez’s lab, which focuses on glioblastoma, will provide tumor samples from patients to test this novel therapy.

Rodriguez and Abbott, whose labs are next door to each other, decided to team up after learning of each other’s research and discovering it intersected.

“We decided it would be a good idea to join forces and work on something together,” Rodriguez said.

UAMS is the state's only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute and Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS' clinical enterprise including its hospital, regional clinics and clinics it operates or staffs in cooperation with other providers. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. U.S. News & World Report recognized UAMS Medical Center as a Best Hospital for 2021-22; ranked its ear, nose and throat program among the top 50 nationwide for the third year; and named five areas as high performing — colon cancer surgery, diabetes, hip replacement, knee replacement and stroke. Forbes magazine ranked UAMS as seventh in the nation on its Best Employers for Diversity list. UAMS also ranked in the top 30% nationwide on Forbes’ Best Employers for Women list and was the only Arkansas employer included. UAMS has 2,876 students, 898 medical residents and six dental residents. It is the state's largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children's, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.