Funding is the lifeblood of a successful research enterprise, but securing funding for bold new ideas that discard research dogma can be a tricky venture.
Scientists often rely on seed money—smaller pilot grants given by professional organizations and academic institutions—to fuel investigation of these seeming "radical” (high-risk, high-reward) research concepts.
"Bold new ideas and hypotheses simply do not get funded by the National Institutes of Health until they have been shown to have merit,” explains George Atweh, MD, director of the UC Cancer Institute and the UC College of Medicine hematology oncology division chief.
"It can be a paradox because researchers must have funding to hire lab staff, run experiments and purchase supplies to gather data. Without this foundation, hypotheses cannot be tested. Without data, justifying competitive multi-year grants from sources like the U.S. Department of Defense or National Cancer Institute is virtually impossible.”
Thanks to the tireless fundraising efforts of Marlene Harris-Ride Cincinnati, scientists with the UC Cancer Institute have access to an ongoing pilot grant research program specifically for breast cancer. The nonprofit organization was founded in 2007 to raise money to fund promising breast cancer research projects initiated by scientists and clinician-scientists living in Cincinnati.
"Pilot grants give our researchers an added boost beyond their institutional lab start-up funds and allows them to move forward – without delay – on promising research concepts,” adds Atweh.
Ride Cincinnati has funded 11 projects since its inception. This funding has helped UC researchers gather critical data that resulted in publication of multiple scientific manuscripts, speaking engagements at scientific meetings and additional funding sources. The next round of grants will be awarded this fall.
Moving From Research Concept to Clinical Application
Pilot grant support has accelerated bench-to-bedside research in breast cancer bone metastasis conducted by Nelson Horseman
, PhD, a professor in molecular and cellular physiology. The funding allowed his team to complete proof-of-principle pre-clinical testing to block a serotonin receptor and inhibit tumor growth and the bone destruction caused by human breast cancer. He published his initial findings in the American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism
in February 2012. "We are now seeking physicians who can collaborate with us to test these drugs in patients,” noted Dr. Horseman.
, PhD, a professor in the cancer biology department, says the pilot research funds
helped her generate the necessary reagents and preliminary data which served as the basis of new funding proposals to the National Institutes of Health, Komen Foundation and U.S. Department of Defense. Ben-Jonathan is investigating a specific protein hormone she discovered (mammolactin) as a potential biomarker for breast cancer. A manuscript of her findings is in preparation for publication.
"These are the types of high-impact research projects we need to invest in if we are going to move from concept to reality and ultimately improve cancer care,” says Atweh. "The funding environment is so competitive that even well-established, respected researchers like Dr. Ben-Jonathan and Dr. Horseman sometimes need a small boost to move forward on truly innovative ideas.”
Researchers Benefiting from Ride Cincinnati
Cancer biology researcher Xiaoting Zhang
, PhD, says the Ride Cincinnati pilot grant was just the boost he needed to accelerate his research investigating ways to overcome resistance to anti-estrogen therapies in breast cancer treatment, which he is working on collaboratively with a group of researchers, including Shao-Chun Wang
, PhD, a fellow UC Cancer Institute researcher based in the cancer biology department.
Zhang is set to publish a scientific manuscript based on his pilot grant data in the November 2012 issue of Cancer Research. He was invited to give an oral presentation at the annual meeting of American Association of Cancer Research and has published two book chapters on RNA nanotechnology and therapeutics. He says the Ride Cincinnati funding also helped him secure more than $1.5 million in additional research from Susan G. Komen, Ohio Cancer Research Associates, the Department of Defense and American Cancer Society,
"The Komen grant is a direct result of this Ride Cincinnati pilot grant and is based on the preliminary data obtained there. This new funding will allow me to develop RNA-based nano-therapeutics to target MED1 to overcome Tamoxifen resistance,” says Zhang.
DNA-Damage and Breast Cancer
El Mustapha Bahassi
, PhD, a basic scientist based in hematology oncology, is collaborating with medical oncologists John Morris, MD, PhD, and Mahmoud Charif, MD, to expand the use of PARP inhibitors beyond BRCA deficiency by testing other DNA damage repair-deficient lesions and their ability to cause drug sensitivity in human breast cancer cells and preclinical models. (Previous studies have shown that when both the BRCA1/BRCA2 and PARP repair pathways are disabled, the unrepaired DNA can lead to the death of the cell—selectively inducing cancerous cell death and sparing normal cells.) Ride Cincinnati pilot funding has allowed him to gather enough initial data to apply for a Komen grant.
, PHD, a UC Cancer Institute researcher who specializes in mechanisms and functions of nuclear transport, says he is "extremely grateful” to Ride Cincinnati: "My pilot grant made it possible for me to generate more data, foster collaboration and increase competitiveness, which resulted in my recent papers in PNAS and American Journal of Physiology.”
Annual Ride Cincinnati Cycling Event
The 2013 Ride Cincinnati cycling event is slated for June 9, 2013, at Sawyer Point in downtown Cincinnati. More than 2,000 people participated in the 2012 event, which raised more than $200,000 for local breast cancer research. To date, Ride Cincinnati has raised $1 million in support of breast cancer research at the UC Cancer Institute and its affiliated adult cancer care facility, the UC Health Barrett Center. Learn more about Ride Cincinnati at ridecincinnati.org