Bolstering its progress in addressing the rising threat of kidney cancer, the Kidney Cancer Program at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center has received $11 million in funding from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Kidney cancer currently has no method of early detection and is particularly challenging to treat.
The highly competitive Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) award from the NCI is the first for kidney cancer research earned by a single institution, and only the second in the nation. In a series of landmark findings over the past 20 years, UT Southwestern researchers have identified and characterized a key protein called HIF-2a involved in kidney cancer. These findings led to development of a drug therapy now in clinical trials as part of the Kidney Cancer Program.
Nearly 400,000 Americans are currently living with a diagnosis of kidney cancer, which is the fourth most commonly treated cancer at UT Southwestern. Unlike several other common cancers – lung, breast, prostate, colon and cervical – there are no existing methods to find the disease early, when it is most treatable. It is usually found indirectly, through a scan performed for a different reason, for example. More than 60,000 people are expected to be diagnosed with kidney cancer this year.
“Receiving SPORE recognition for our Kidney Cancer Program is reflective of the collaborative, interdisciplinary environment that UT Southwestern has historically embraced. The early inroads that UT Southwestern researchers made in this arena serve as the ideal launching pad for future success against this devastating disease,” said Dr. J. Gregory Fitz, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Provost and Dean of Southwestern Medical School, and Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern, who holds the Nadine and Tom Craddick Distinguished Chair in Medical Science, and the Atticus James Gill, M.D. Chair in Medical Science.
The UT Southwestern SPORE program involves four innovative disease and clinical research teams targeting adult and pediatric kidney cancer, as well as a patient advocate group, a developmental research program, a career enhancement program, and core facilities to support these efforts through data analysis, imaging technology, and a tissue repository. The four research teams will:
• Search for biomarkers to identify kidney cancer tumors most likely to respond to a HIF-2a inhibitor, as well as to anticipate ways in which the tumor may evade the drug’s impact.
• Investigate the function of a gene that identifies a cluster of particularly aggressive tumors associated with clear-cell renal cell carcinoma, in hopes of identifying vulnerabilities that can be targeted with drugs.
• Examine kidney cancer metabolism to distinguish aggressive from less active tumors, potentially yielding a tailored treatment approach.
• Test novel treatments for childhood kidney cancer by researching the implications of a Wilms tumor subtype.
“This extraordinary award from the NCI supports the extensive kidney cancer research program built by our faculty over the past several years,” said Dr. Melanie Cobb, Interim Director of the Simmons Cancer Center, Professor of Pharmacology, and holder of the Jane and Bill Browning, Jr. Chair in Medical Science. “Sixteen distinguished research leaders – each nationally recognized in their field of expertise – will lead the team of more than 40 scientists that will focus on developing new approaches toward this disease which is particularly deadly.”
“We are translating seminal discoveries and technological innovation at UT Southwestern to expand treatment options for both adult and pediatric kidney cancer patients,” said Principal Investigator Dr. James Brugarolas, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, and Virginia Murchison Linthicum Scholar in Medical Research. “These funds will support a variety of new and ongoing activities including the development of a new drug, studies of kidney cancer subtypes in adults and children, and a novel approach to determine what small tumors may be deadly.”
This award marks the second SPORE grant for UT Southwestern, which for 20 years has led a multi-institutional SPORE program in lung cancer that is the largest thoracic oncology effort in the U.S.
The Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center in North Texas and one of just 47 NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the nation. Simmons Cancer Center includes 13 major cancer care programs. In addition, the Center’s education and training programs support and develop the next generation of cancer researchers and clinicians. Simmons Cancer Center is among only 30 U.S. cancer research centers to be designated by the NCI as a National Clinical Trials Network Lead Academic Participating Site.