American Cancer Society to help Sanford Burnham Prebys push the envelope in cancer research

Cosimo Commisso, Ph.D. and Svasti Haricharan, Ph.D.

Two faculty members from Sanford Burnham Prebys have been awarded grants from the American Cancer Society (ACS), the largest not-for-profit funding body for scientists studying cancer. Associate Professor Cosimo Commisso, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor Svasti Haricharan, Ph.D., each received competitive awards to advance their work on difficult-to-treat cancers.

“Grants from the American Cancer Society let researchers explore new ideas and join a network of scientists looking for ways to improve the lives of people with cancer,” says Commisso. “It is outstanding that our Institute has received two of these unique grants in the same year.”

“Studies like these, which are not aligned with current dogma in the field, are often impossible to fund through the highly conservative peer review system for the National Institutes of Health,” says Haricharan. “This is where ACS makes a huge difference, especially to early-career researchers like me—by trusting in the potential of radically new ideas to change lives.”

Cosimo Commisso, Ph.D. — Starving pancreatic tumors

Associate Professor Cosimo Commisso was awarded a two-year grant to explore the potential of treating pancreatic cancer by blocking the metabolism of glutamine, a nutrient that pancreatic tumors need to grow.

“There are already early clinical trials for this approach in lung cancer,” says Commisso. “Studying it in pancreatic cancer is essentially a way to try and get the most out of therapies that are already being developed.”

Pancreatic cancer accounts for just 3% of cancer cases in the United States, but it is so difficult to treat that it is projected to become the second-leading cause of cancer-related death by 2030. According to the National Cancer Institute, about 49,830 people will die from pancreatic cancer in the United States in 2022.

“This project really has the potential to benefit patients directly and to do it quickly,” says Commisso. “That’s why it’s worth doing even if we don’t know the outcome. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

Cosimo Commisso, Ph.D., will be supported by a Discovery Boost Grant, DBG-22-172-01-TBE, from the American Cancer Society. The grant is titled “Harnessing Metabolic Dependencies to Develop Novel Therapeutic Modalities for Pancreatic Cancer.”

Svasti Haricharan, Ph.D — Unraveling treatment-resistant breast cancer

Assistant Professor Svasti Haricharan was awarded a four-year grant to advance her work on one of the most common types of breast cancer. Haricharan’s project will study how molecular decisions made by cells during the earliest stages of cancer formation impact how the disease will eventually respond to treatment.

“Therapy resistance is one of the leading causes of breast cancer–related death, but we still don’t understand what causes it or why it happens in some people but not in others,” says Haricharan. “This project gives us the opportunity to explore how molecular events occurring early in cancer formation directly contribute to the eventual life-or-death outcome of the patient.”

The results of the research will help scientists and clinicians start patients on the most effective therapies for breast cancer sooner rather than later, which will help avoid unnecessary treatment cycles and also help improve outcomes.

Svasti Haricharan, Ph.D. will be supported by a Research Scholar Grant, RSG-22-094-01-CCB, from the American Cancer Society. The grant is titled “DNA damage repair and CHEK2 mediated endocrine therapy resistance in breast cancer.” 

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