The University of Tennessee Health Science Center Office of Research Announces System-Wide Collaborative Award Winners

Three research projects have been selected as the winners of the 2017 University of Tennessee Collaborative Research Network (UT CORNET) Awards in Cancer Research. The awards are designed to promote new lines of team-based research and serve as a catalyist of new collaborative partnerships for UT cancer investigators across Tennessee.

Imagined by UTHSC Vice Chancellor for Research Steven R. Goodman and institutional research leaders at other UT sites, the UT CORNET Awards in Cancer funding opportunity was first announced to investigators in early fall 2016. In November, the inaugural 2016 University of Tennessee CORNET Cancer Conference was held with more than 70 cancer researchers from across the state in attendance. The conference successfully brought together researchers from all campuses of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC); the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK); the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA); the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine (UTCVM); the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC); and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL); allowing them to share research interests and catalyze new collaborative partnerships that would result in the submission of a UT CORNET Award proposal in cancer, which would give rise to extramural funding.

“We had an overwhelming number of strong applications submitted and initial funding only slated for two awards,” said Dr. Goodman. “Once we saw all the extraordinary work being done by our UT researchers, we decided to fund three awards in the hopes that they will find solutions to cancer diseases that affect so many Americans today.”

The 2017 UT CORNET Award in Cancer Research winners and their project titles are:
• “Real-time autobioluminescent imaging of NF-B and Wnt signaling activities and their synergistic co-activation in cancer” – Zhaohui Wu, MD, PhD, (UTHSC), and Steven Ripp, PhD (UTK). In this project, autonomously bioluminescent imaging-based approaches will be developed to enable continuous, real-time monitoring of dysregulated oncogenic signals, such as NF-κB and Wnt, in cancer cells. This new approach will provide a powerful monitoring platform for both investigating cancer progression in animal models and screening novel anti-cancer drugs.
• “Dual Therapeutic Nanoplatform Delivery for Effective Breast Cancer Treatment” – Murali M. Yallapu, PhD (UTHSC), and Hwa-Chain Robert Wang (UTIA). The primary aim of this project is to develop a synergistic therapeutic option for Triple Negative Breast Cancer by combining cisplatin with Romidepsin in a novel nanoformulation for targeted delivery. This treatment methodology lead to develop therapeutic regimens to control Ras-ERK-activated cancers with minimal side effects.
• “Role of lncRNA-NRON and NFAT in CRC health disparity” – Manish K. Tripathi, PhD (UTHSC), Cuilan (Lani) Gao, PhD (UTC). The goal of this project is to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms associated with colorectal cancer (CRC) health disparity that exists among AA population. This will facilitate the identification of improved diagnostic/prognostic biomarkers and novel therapeutic targets to reduce CRC health disparity.

Any UT faculty member doing cancer research (in any category on the Full Spectrum of Translational Research, “bench to bedside”) at the aforementioned sites had the ability to apply for a UT CORNET Award in Cancer. To be eligible for a UT CORNET Award in Cancer, each proposal must have included, at minimum, one faculty member from at least two participating institutions. Resources were available to fund up to $50,000 per award for one year with financial support coming equally from both campuses.

“The UT CORNET Awards in Cancer is the first award of its kind,” said Dr. Goodman. “Our goal is to strengthen the aspect of research collaboration across the UT system and serve as a catalyst for our investigators to perform cutting-edge research. One way we can facilitate this growth is through the CORNET Awards.”

The CORNET Awards are being implemented in four phases: (1) UTHSC CORNET Awards, where nine teams from UTHSC’s Memphis campus were awarded more than $422,504 for new collaborative research initiatives in April 2016; (2) UT CORNET Awards, which brings together researchers from multiple UT campuses across Tennessee; (3) USA CORNET Awards, of which the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) was UTHSC’s first partnering university; and (4) Global CORNET Awards, which Stephania Cormier, PhD, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Global Partnerships, is working to establish.

To date, the CORNET Awards have provided more than $622,504 in seed funding to new teams of researchers. A second UTHSC CORNET Award opportunity, which included all UTHSC campus locations, was recently announced. More CORNET Award opportunites are also in the planning phases for Spring 2017.

To learn more about the CORNET Awards, please visit https://www.uthsc.edu/research/development/intramural-funding/cornet-awards.php.