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UC Davis cancer researchers receive seed grants

Five researchers at UC Davis have received Institutional Research Grants for a range of cancer-related projects.

These grants of up to $20,000 are designed to encourage junior faculty to study the causes and cures of cancer as well as psychosocial issues associated with cancer screening and treatment. Faculty researchers use the results of these studies to develop competitive proposals for national funding.

These grants are funded by the UC Davis Institutional Research Grant Committee, which receives money from the American Cancer Society with matching funds from the Dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine. David R. Gandara, M.D, the cancer center's associate director for clinical research, is principal investigator.

Recipients for the fifth year of the program were as follows:

Sean Burgess, an assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology. Her project aims to understand how cells detect and respond to DNA damage. She is especially interested in the role of checkpoint genes such as ATM which, when damaged, causes ataxia telangiectasia, a rare childhood neurologic disorder that predisposes its sufferers to cancer.

Kenneth Kaplan, an assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology. Kaplan will study how genetic information is lost in colorectal tumor cells by analyzing signal transduction pathways in the checkpoint proteins Bub1 and Bub3.

Cheryl London, an assistant professor of veterinary medical oncology. London received funding to study the biological consequences of mutations in the proto-oncogene c-kit in canine mast cell tumors. This tumor (a form of skin cancer) is the most common malignancy in dogs. She previously identified mutations in c-kit that led to constitutive activation of the resultant protein. Similar mutations in c-kit have been identified in several different human malignancies. (For more about London's research, see First Steps: The truth about cats and dogs).

Zeljka Smit McBride, assistant professor of molecular biology. McBride is interested in how over-expression of individual subunits of the protein complex known as eIF3 contributes to prostate cancer. McBride's hypothesis is that disregulation of eIF3 not only leads to abnormal cell growth but it may also cause prostate cancer to not need testosterone to grow. This type of prostate cancer, known as androgen-resistant or hormone-refractory prostate cancer, is the most dangerous type of the disease.

Alyson Mitchell, an assistant professor of environmental toxicology. Mitchell received funding to study how a class of phytochemicals known as procyanidins help prevent cancer. Procyanidins are a subclass of flavenoids, antioxidant chemical compounds found in fruits and vegetables that are thought to help the body defend itself against cancerous changes in the cells. Procyanidins are found in apples, barley, tea, grapes, cocoa, wine and strawberries.

The recipients will be honored at a reception hosted by the American Cancer Society and the UC Davis Cancer Center later this spring.


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Sean Burgess

Kenneth Kaplan

Zeldka Smit McBride

Alyson Mitchell