CNRCS Students Receive Trio of Awards

Tran, Tennakoon, DoThree students at the UH Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling (CNRCS) have been selected for a trio of awards.  Graduate student Jayantha Tennakoon received an Outstanding Abstract Award for ENDO 2012, the upcoming 94th Annual Meeting and Expo of The Endocrine Society. Undergraduate students Hannah Do and Peter Tran each were selected for a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) awarded by the UH Office of Undergraduate Research.

“We emphasize hands-on student participation at the Center and provide training opportunities for select graduate and undergraduate students,” says Daniel Frigo, assistant professor and supervisor to the award recipients. “These awards recognize the drive of these students and are significant accomplishments in their emerging cancer research careers.”

For the Outstanding Abstract Award, Tennakoon will receive a travel award stipend to present his abstract at ENDO 2012. The annual meeting will convene in Houston, June 23-26. The abstract, “Androgens Regulate Prostate Cancer Cell Growth and Survival via an AMPK-PGC1[alpha]-Mediated Metabolic Switch,” examines how the class of hormones called androgens promote prostate cancer. Tennakoon is a fifth year graduate student, Ph.D. candidate and member of the Frigo lab group. He previously received interdisciplinary training in genomics under assistant professor Preethi Gunaratne.

Through the SURF program, Do and Tran each will receive a stipend and spend the summer pursuing research projects in the Frigo lab on a full-time basis. The program includes a weekly lecture series and will conclude on Undergraduate Research Day 2012 in October.  For the event, Do and Tran will both present a research poster and abstract summarizing how they spent the summer.

As a full-time researcher with the Frigo lab group, Tran will be testing whether a specific splice variant found in the prostate has increased autonomous cancer signaling activity. The project will be an extension of his current lab work and will set the foundation for potential future mechanistic studies. Tran’s studies will be the first performed with the Center’s new animal imaging core, awarded by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Do also joins the lab full-time to identify druggable kinases that contribute to the pathogenesis of prostate cancer. Do will utilize a revolutionary chemical library with the goal of isolating novel therapeutic targets for treating advanced prostate cancer. The scale of her project is unique for the undergraduate level and will incorporate resources provided by the pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline and Roche.

As a principal investigator at the Center, Frigo leads a group of research technicians, postdoctoral fellows and students in pursuing a better understanding of the function of nuclear receptors in cancer through interdisciplinary research. The long-term goal of the group is to develop novel therapies that target newly identified mechanisms mediated by nuclear receptors. Frigo also spearheaded the effort to acquire the new animal imaging core.

Established in 2009, CNRCS is the focal point of the UH health initiative. Led by Dr. Jan-Åke Gustafsson, a world-renowned expert in the field of nuclear receptors, CNRCS researchers are involved in many aspects of nuclear receptor research, all focused on understanding the roles of these receptors in health and disease. CNRCS researchers are working toward the goal of finding new treatments for an array of significant diseases including cancer, diabetes and metabolic syndrome and degenerative neurologic diseases. Working from the Center's world-class labs, CNRCS researchers combine interdisciplinary research and dynamic collaboration with the Texas Medical Center and industry partners.

For more information on the SURF program, visit