CNRCS Researcher Awarded $5.2 Million Grant for Prostate Cancer Study

Renowned University of Houston hormone researcher Jan-Åke Gustafsson has been awarded $5.2 million by the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) to explore new treatments for prostate cancer. Gustafsson will oversee the multi-investigator award, which is an interdisciplinary collaboration with researchers from the UH Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling (CNRCS), The Methodist Hospital Research Institute (TMHRI) and the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP).

CNRCS founding researchers Gustafsson and Margaret Warner will collaborate with Paul Webb of TMHRI and Marc Cox of UTEP to develop new methods for treating the most severe form of prostate cancer. Gustafsson, who discovered a previously unknown estrogen receptor during the mid-1990s, is internationally recognized as a leading authority on hormone receptors. Through this research grant, he will lead the group in the discovery of innovative approaches to slowing the growth of early-stage cancers and combating late-stage cancers.

Prostate cancer affects one in six men, with more than 200,000 new cases diagnosed annually. In approximately one-third of diagnosed cases, the disease spreads and invades other tissues to become life-threatening. As prostate cancer requires male hormones, androgens, to grow and survive, current treatments target the naturally-occurring hormones which can result in negative and harmful side effects. In the most severe and recurrent forms of the cancer, the cancer can become resistant to the deprivation therapy, at which point treatment options are extremely limited.

Armed with decades of experience in hormone research, Gustafsson and Warner will test plant-derived and synthetic chemicals resembling hormones to prevent and combat prostate cancer. The team also plans to develop drugs that target new areas of the androgen signaling system and work differently from existing therapies. The unique research collaboration will allow the team to expedite testing the feasibility of the new methods of treatment.

"Through this grant provided by CPRIT, we will be able to open the door for new and better prostate cancer therapies," said Gustafsson. "Our early efforts have yielded promising results and we look forward to building on our previous successes."

The grant, announced March 24, is part of $116 million awarded by CPRIT to 22 cancer research and commercialization projects at 16 Texas-based institutions and private companies. The institute is expected to award a total of $216 million in 2011 to support groundbreaking cancer research, drug development and evidence-based cancer screening efforts in Texas. Through matching funds committed by grant recipients, more than $500 million has been invested in Texas' ten year mission to change the face of cancer.

This latest grant is the second and largest to date awarded by CPRIT to CNRCS. Anders Strom, a researcher within the center, previously received funding from the institute for a collaborative project with TMHRI. The goal of the study, initiated in 2010, is to develop new therapies for treating secondary tumors which may result from current breast cancer treatments.

“This important award is an indication of UH’s continuing commitment to research excellence and reflects the emphasis we place on finding real solutions to health-related problems,” said UH President Renu Khator. 

In 2007, the state dedicated $3 billion to establish CPRIT and invest in groundbreaking cancer research and prevention programs in Texas. The institute focuses on expediting the innovation and commercialization of research, increasing the potential for breakthroughs and enhancing access to evidence-based prevention programs and services.