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5 New Research Projects Launched Thanks to Donor Support

Twice a year, the Alliance Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) announces a call for grant applications from Roswell Park’s research community. These grants provide seed funding for our researchers to launch ideas that have demonstrated the potential to impact patient care and save lives.

The committee received 30 applications this past fall, five of which were selected by the SAC to receive grant awards, totaling $500,000. These critical grants are only possible thanks to donor support, including donations made to the Empire State Ride.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide. Approximately two-thirds of patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage, and of the remaining patients who undergo curative surgery, 30-50 percent have a recurrence with metastatic disease. Unfortunately, the molecular mechanisms underlying lung cancer progression remain poorly understood. Our project aims at understanding the role of a novel enzyme, SETDB1, in lung cancer progression and metastasis, with a goal of evaluating SETDB1 as a therapeutic target and facilitating the development of novel strategies for lung cancer treatment.

Jia Fang, PhD, Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics

Triple-Negative Breast Cancer

Triple-negative breast cancer is a highly aggressive form of breast cancer that
often recurs after initial treatment, is highly likely to spread and is notoriously hard to treat. The high relapse rate can be attributed to a small population of cancer-initiating cells in the tumor. Our study will explore the roles and underlying processes involved with these cells, tumor creation and metastasis, with a goal of developing a new way to attack this terrible cancer and save more lives.

Jianmin Zhang, PhD, Department of Cancer Genetics and Genomics


Adoptive T cell therapy is a cutting-edge type of immunotherapy in which a patient’s own T cells are removed, reengineered to fight cancer cells and infused back into their body. It is one of the most effective treatments for cancers like melanoma, sarcoma, lymphoma and leukemia. The problem is that the new cells don’t live very long after infusion, and the cancer returns. With this project, we will determine whether we can reprogram adult T cells into a kind of stem cell that could live longer and delay or even prevent relapse. Results should help us develop significantly improved treatments for advanced and metastatic cancers, as well as help launch new personalized treatments.

Fumito Ito, MD, PhD, Department of Surgical Oncology

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA) is a highly lethal cancer with a five-year survival rate of 9 percent, due in part to treatment resistance and the fact that it is so often diagnosed in late stages. While surgery can cure it, the majority of patients can’t have surgery because it has already spread. We have discovered that a particular process plays an important role in driving pancreatic cancer initiation and progression. Through this study we will explore this process in greater detail and determine if targeting specific drugs against this process will help us save more lives from PDA.

Michael Feigin, PhD, Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics

Pancreatic Cancer

Synovial cell sarcoma (ScS) and Ewing sarcoma (ES) are soft-tissue tumors in children,
adolescents and young adults. They have very poor long-term survival because there aren’t many drugs that can target the genetic mechanisms causing them. Data generated from this study will help us determine which drugs could hinder development of ScS and ES so we can substantially increase survival of patients with these diseases.

Irwin Gelman, PhD, Department of Cancer Genetics and Genomics