Drs. Sasaki, Plas Awarded $100k Molecular Therapeutics Program Grants for Brain Cancer Research


Dr. Atsuo Sasaki, left, in his lab, and Dr. David Plas, right, in his office at the Vontz Center for Molecular Studies at the UC Academic Health Center. Photos by Cindy Starr for UCNI.

CONTACT: Cindy Starr
(513) 558-3505

The University of Cincinnati Brain Tumor Center’s Molecular Therapeutics Program has awarded $100,000 pilot grants to Atsuo Sasaki, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology Oncology, and David Plas, PhD, Associate Professor of Cancer Biology.

Dr. Sasaki’s research is focused on finding a way to halt malignant brain tumors, including glioblastoma, an aggressive primary brain tumor that originates in the glial cells, and brain metastasis of breast cancers. His research focuses on a specific protein, Type II PIPK, which is linked to a mutation that frequently appears in glioblastoma and breast cancer metastases.

Dr. Plas’s research is focused on finding a way to halt the growth and spread of glioma, a primary brain tumor that appears as glioblastoma in its most advanced stage. His research focuses on a specific protein, known as S6K1, which plays a role in all four sub-types of glioma.

Both Type II PIPK and S6K1 are kinases. Kinases are proteins that modify other proteins and regulate cellular pathways. Importantly, the kinases are molecules that can be made vulnerable by drugs. New treatments, once developed, could inhibit Type II PIPK and S6K1 and attenuate tumor growth.

The grants will be given over two years, with funding beginning this December. The Molecular Therapeutics Program, a collaboration between the UC Neuroscience Institute and the UC Cancer Institute, is a translational research program that seeks to translate novel laboratory research into Phase I clinical trials for patients.

The grants are the latest example of how fundraising efforts by the UC Brain Tumor Center’s Community Advisory Council, chaired by Kathy Beechem, have fueled innovative pilot studies. In addition to the Molecular Therapeutics Program funds, UC Brain Tumor Center researchers have benefited from funds provided by the Center’s annual Wine Tasting event and Walk Ahead for a Brain Tumor Cure, the Shemenski Foundation, the Mayfield Education and Research Foundation, the LCS/Sahlfeld Foundation, the Center for Clinical and Translational Science Training (CCTST).

“Pilot grants of $50,000 to $100,000 enable researchers to test new ideas and to gather preliminary data that is necessary for a larger grant from the National Institutes of Health,” says Ronald Warnick, MD, Medical Director of the UC Brain Tumor Center and the John M. Tew, Jr., Chair in Neurosurgical Oncology.

Dr. Sasaki proposes that Type II PIPK is problematic because it enables mutated cancer cells to guzzle energy, grow and spread. He postulates that if Type II PIPK can be silenced, or inhibited, the growth of glioblastoma and breast cancer that has metastasized to the brain could be halted.

“We hope that positive results from this research can be translated into early-phase clinical trials for patients,” Dr. Sasaki says.

Dr. Plas and his laboratory team have assembled a panel of five pre-clinical compounds through collaboration with chemists from the pharmaceutical industry as well as leading academic chemists. Using these compounds, they are performing the first comprehensive analysis of S6K1 as a target for brain cancer therapy.

“We have an opportunity to use targeted therapeutics that have not been successfully applied in glioma therapy,” Dr. Plas says. “This work will provide the critical first step for a new direction in the development of new drugs for personalized cancer therapy of brain cancer.”

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