UTHSC and UAMS Announce Second Collaborative Award Winners for Cancer Research

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Dr. Goodman (left) and Raisa Krutilina, PhD, research associate in the Department of Pathology at UTHSC, look at poster presentations from the Cancer Research Conference held in May. (Photo by Thurman Hobson, UTHSC)

Four research teams have just been announced as the 2017 awardees for the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC)/ University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Collaborative Research Network (CORNET) Awards in Cancer. This is the second CORNET funding opportunity established between the two institutions. The UTHSC/UAMS CORNET Awards in Cancer are designed to provide seed money to stimulate innovative, interdisciplinary, team-based cancer research, which will give rise to future extramural funding.

Conceived by Steven R. Goodman, PhD, vice chancellor for Research at UTHSC, and Lawrence Cornett, PhD, vice chancellor for Research at UAMS, the UTHSC/UAMS CORNET Award winners will receive a combined total of $191,000 in pilot funding for one year. Their project titles are:

• “HPV Genotypes Associated with Esophageal Cancer Excess in Poultry Workers” – David Shibata, MD, FACS, FASCRS (UTHSC); Eric Johnson, MB;BS, PhD, MPH, DTPH (UAMS)

• “TNF-α Targeted Nanomedicine for Improved Chemotherapy and Radiation Treatment in HNSCC” – Murali M. Yallapu, PhD (UTHSC); Robert Griffin, PhD (UAMS)

• “Online vs. In-person Lay Health Advisor Training for Weight Loss” – Ilana Graetz, PhD (UTHSC); Karen Yeary, PhD (UAMS)
• “An Investigation of the Microbiome and Mucosal Immune System in Breast Tumor and Normal Tissue from African American and non-Hispanic White Women” – Athena Starlard-Davenport, PhD (UTHSC); Barbara Fuhrman, PhD (UAMS)

In the Fall of 2016, the two institutions partnered to establish the first UTHSC/UAMS CORNET Award opportunity which focused on substance abuse. Kristin Hamre, PhD, associate professor at UTHSC, and Cynthia Kane, PhD, professor at UAMS, were later announced as the $50,000 collaborative winning team. Dr. Goodman explains that the CORNET program and its increasing popularity among researchers at UTHSC and UAMS is simple to understand.

“UTHSC and UAMS are both very strong Research Institutions which are close in physical proximity and have overlapping scientific areas of excellence, said Dr. Goodman. “Dr. Cornett and I are providing a platform on which our respective faculty can find research synergies where the sum is greater than the individual parts. We expect that these CORNET awards will be a springboard towards greater collaborative efforts leading to groundbreaking research and better treatments and cures for many forms of cancer.”

To be eligible for a UTHSC/UAMS CORNET Award in Cancer, teams must be comprised of at least two faculty members, one from UTHSC and the other from UAMS, who are doing cancer research (inclusive of T0 to T4). To help encourage new scientific partnerships between investigators at each site, more than 100 cancer researchers convened in May for the first Spring 2017 Cancer Research Conference. The event, hosted in Memphis by UTHSC in partnership with West Cancer Center and UAMS, showcased cancer research being done at both universities through speaker presentations and a poster session. The UTHSC/UAMS CORNET Award in Cancer opportunity was announced during the conference.

Dr. Cornett remains inspired by the potential outcomes in the field of cancer research due to the continued success of the collaborative partnerships between both institutions.

“I believe we are seeing the beginning of several new collaborations involving investigators from UAMS, UTHSC and the West Cancer Center that will advance our understanding of cancer as well as lead to new treatments and diagnostics,” said Dr. Cornett. “It’s been gratifying to see the response of cancer investigators from these three institutions following the 2017 Cancer Research Conference held in Memphis last May.”

The CORNET Awards are being implemented in five phases: (1) UTHSC CORNET Awards, where 21 new collaborative teams from different UTHSC colleges and campus locations have been granted funding since April 2016; (2) UT CORNET Awards, of which three teams of researchers from multiple UT campuses across the state of Tennessee were granted more than $150,000 to pursue their cancer research projects in April 2017; (3) USA CORNET Awards, of which UAMS is UTHSC’s first partner university; (4) Global CORNET Awards; and (5) UTHSC/Southern Research CORNET Award in Drug Discovery and Development, the newest CORNET opportunity to be created.

To date, the CORNET Awards have provided over $1.1 million in funding to support new collaborative research teams and their projects. Lisa Youngentob, director of the Office of Research Development at UTHSC, stated she is overwhelmed with the success of the CORNET Awards, as they prove to be a continual positive catalyst for new collaborative research ventures.

“There are collaborative research teams, comprised of UTHSC researchers and beyond, that would not have come together had it not been for the CORNET Awards,” said Youngentob. “Several of our funded teams have already submitted external grants based on their CORNET work. Even teams who submitted CORNET proposals that did not get funded have developed their proposals and submitted them to external agencies. This is a great measure of success and exactly what the CORNETs were intended to do; open the door for new collaborative research teams, ultimately leading to the submission of grants to external funding agencies.”