Cancer researchers at UH were awarded a $2.4 million grant to fund a program that focuses on a multi-disciplinary approach to fighting the disease.
The grant is the second awarded to UH by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), which manages the state’s new multi-billion dollar cancer research initiative approved by voters in 2007. It is the first grant awarded to UH in the combined fields of science and engineering.
The multi-disciplinary program focuses on combining cancer biology with computational disciplines such as computer science.
B. Montgomery Pettitt, director of the University’s CPRIT training program and a Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished University Professor, said the emphasis on combining disciplines is revolutionary in scope.
“There’s a realization that all the problems of cancer won’t be solved by biology,” Pettitt said in a news release. “We need to bring the expertise in a wide variety of fields to bear on these problems, because the most revolutionary stuff comes from thinking at the interface of disciplines.”
One dozen postdoctoral trainees will be chosen in September with 20 undergraduates having the opportunity to participate in summer research projects. The program aims to show cancer biology researchers how tools in the engineering field can aid each other in the fight against cancer.
“By gaining proficiency in a second technical area, these researchers will be equipped to tackle some of the most pressing problems in cancer research,” Pettitt said in a news release.
“For example, a scientist studying genes to understand biochemical pathways in cells may find existing technology inadequate to piece together the giant puzzle of data produced by genetic sequencers and must work with computer scientists to produce new computational tools.”
The Keck Center for Interdisciplinary Bioscience at Rice University will help administer the program. The center has a faculty roster of over 450 professors from UH, Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University, UT Health Science Center, UT Medical Branch Galveston and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
Two faculty mentors associated with the Keck Center’s six participating institutions, one each from the engineering and cancer biology fields, will be assigned to the student researchers.
UH’s growing role in biomedical research, along with the University’s existing ties to the Texas Medical Center (TMC) through the Keck center, may lead to more grants.
“There likely will be more such grants in the future as the University’s science and engineering expertise complements TMC’s clinical expertise,” Pettitt said. “The award puts UH with the leading research institutions in Texas receiving CPRIT funding and also boosts UH by adding more postdoctoral researchers, an important indicator for Tier One status.”
CPRIT first granted UH with $275,000 for a cervical cancer education initiative last year.