Cancer grant could lead to cures

The arduous and seemingly endless search for a cure for cancer got a boost in September.

The H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center was awarded a $3.2 million grant by the U.S. Department of Defense to fund a project that could eventually save the lives of cancer patients.

Dr. Jack Pledger, associate director of basic science for the Moffitt Center, said the main goal of the National Functional Genomics Project is in the interest of the center’s future in research.

“Our overall mission, in terms of the (project), is the cure of cancer,” Pledger said.

The study will also gather information to develop new technologies that will be useful in the treatment of cancer and other diseases.

Pledger said the project seeks to develop a system of diagnosing cancerous tumors so it will be clear which type of treatment will be necessary for the patient.

The researchers hope to accomplish this goal by using micro-ray technology that diagnoses tumors to determine if certain cancer-causing proteins are present in the genes, Pledger said.

“The project has the development of scientific and medical technology that will be very useful in probably all other fields of medicine,” Pledger said. “The Department of Defense, as they fund this, hope to see the type of thing develop that would be very useful in many other areas such as Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular and bioterrorism.”

After the genes of the tumors are collected, they will be scanned against a database of known “fingerprint” tumor types that will determine the best treatment for the patient.

Pledger said this method could help patients with cancer because it might allow them to save precious time in their treatment.

“What’s really good about this is you may, one, be able to gain time on the first treatment,” Pledger said. “It may give patients the added edge of being able to skip treatment that doesn’t work and be able to find one that will work.”

Pledger said researchers will study the leading causes of cancer so the results can help more patients.

“Breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer and melanoma will be top priority,” Pledger said. “Those are the ones that if we could cure, that would tremendously affect the survival of people and the burden on society of medical care.”

“The number of staff members working on the project is 25 principle investigators and faculty members,” Pledger said.

There are several other people who are working under the guidance of these investigators.

“There will be hundreds of people working on this project by the time it’s all finished,” Pledger said.

Pledger added that the research will help USF move forward as a Research I university.

“We are excited about this project because, first and foremost, we hope that it will help find a better way to treat cancer,” Pledger said. “But at the same time it is something that is going to help develop not only Moffitt and the University of South Florida.”