During a membership event April 29, the Cincinnati Cancer Center awarded over $200,000 in pilot grants to members and basic scientists who are collaborating to find out more about various cancers with hopes of generating more data and additional funding.
Two teams received Mentee-Mentor Partnership Awards to encourage CCC members, especially young investigators, in cancer research.
Zhang, PhD, associate member of the Cincinnati Cancer Center, assistant
professor in the James L. Winkle College of Pharmacy, member of the UC
Cancer Institute and principal investigator of the $19,640 CCC pilot grant, is
researching ways to treat the deadliest form of skin cancer: melanoma.
coming to UC from the University of Pennsylvania in 2010, he quickly teamed up
with his mentor Zalfa Abdel-Malek, PhD, member of the CCC, professor in the
department of dermatology at the UC College of Medicine and member of the UC
Cancer Institute, to collaborate on a number of studies examining the molecular
pathways that lead to melanoma.
this research, Zhang is investigating the roles and functions of fibroblast in
melanoma stroma (the framework of the cells) in promoting melanoma development
by regulating the expression of a protein called beta-catenin.
drive the growth and migration of melanoma by providing
is one of the most challenging solid tumors with high rates of mutation and is
notorious for its drug resistance and tendency to spread. For years,
researchers have concentrated their efforts on the identification of ways to
either kill malignant tumor cells or restrict their growth. Unfortunately, poor
treatment outcomes have frustrated clinicians due to the genetic instability
that frequently occurs in malignant melanoma cells,” Zhang says.
says the formation of melanoma is driven by not only malignant tumor cells but
also by their changed communication with other non-malignant cells, including
fibroblasts, endothelial and inflammatory cells, in the tumor stroma.
has shown that a
larger number of tumor-associated fibroblasts in the tumor stroma is associated
with an increased risk of metastasis and a poor prognosis. Therefore, targeting the fibroblast to destroy the
microenvironment in which tumor cells live has emerged as a new and promising
therapeutic strategy,” he continues.
says that little is known about how normal skin fibroblasts, a possible source
of tumor-associated fibroblasts, become reprogrammed to build an optimal microenvironment
for tumors to grow and progress.
animal models, we are looking to alter the tumor microenvironment that is
supporting melanoma progression by disabling tumor-associated fibroblasts
through the manipulation of beta-catenin signaling,” he says, adding that
beta-catenin regulates the coordination of cell adhesion and gene
transcription. "The objective of our study is to explore the molecular
mechanisms controlling the interactions between these fibroblasts and melanoma
cells that foster cancer.
hope to gain new insights to eventually develop clinical applications targeting
tumor-associated fibroblasts for melanoma treatment.”
says he feels greatly honored to receive this award and even more pleased to be
working on melanoma research with someone as esteemed as Abdel-Malek.
Abdel-Malek is not only an exceptional mentor for directing my cancer research
but is also an ideal advisor to train and assist me with intellectual
collaboration, manuscript writing and grant management during my career
development” says Zhang, adding that they have been working closely together and
have already submitted a grant application to the National Cancer Institute.
says the admiration goes both ways.
very happy and excited to work with Dr. Zhang,” she says. "He did excellent
work as a postdoc, and working together was a no-brainer for us. Mentorship
opportunities are so important, and I base this on my experience when I was a
junior faculty member, struggling to gain funding. It all comes from
funding and the skills it will help develop are invaluable.”
*As a further development, the CCC award may be used to team up with the Melanoma Research Alliance to sponsor Zhang's research.
The University of
Cincinnati, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and UC Health have
created the Cincinnati Cancer Center—a joint effort designed to leverage the
strengths of all three organizations in order to provide the best possible
cancer diagnostics, research, treatment, and care for individuals in the
Tristate region and the nation. To learn more, visit cincinnaticancercenter.org.