Cancer Institute awards $8.5 million to UT Austin to continue research

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The Texas Cancer Prevention and Research Institute awarded a grant of about $8.5 million to the University of Texas last month.

Half of the money went to recruit Ku-Lung Hsu, a professor of chemistry, pharmacology and biological physics from the University of Virginia, to UT. Hsu will begin teaching next spring. Four UT professors received the other half of the grant, including chemical engineering professor Jennifer Maynard and Walter Fast, professor of chemical biology and medicinal chemistry.

The Maynard Lab, headed by Jennifer Maynard, received $3.9 million, which will go towards new equipment, such as a flow cytometer, that allows researchers to isolate and study millions of cells individually.

Maynard said his lab pioneered the use of cancer cells’ unique pH level to help find and destroy antibodies.

“We’re really good at making antibodies, and we know how to make them and how to stabilize them, so they’ll actually work as therapeutics,” Maynard said. “There aren’t many doctors or cancer researchers in Texas who know how to do this.”

Maynard said the lab hopes to expand its partnership with doctors across Texas who can connect this with real-life treatments for patients.

Fast said his $250,000 grant will go to graduate students who are focused on translating his work into usable medicine. His lab has discovered a new way for molecules to bind to specific cancer-promoting proteins, and students will shape the molecules’ properties into a drug available for treatment, he said.

“It takes many years and a ton of money to develop a molecule into a drug,” Fast said. “Our goal is to take the first steps on this journey and develop new strategies that can be used more broadly when developing drugs to defeat cancer.”

Hsu, a 2008 UT graduate, said coming back here was like coming home. He said he would use most of the donation to establish his laboratory in his rediscovered “home”. It will include a mass spectrograph, which researchers will use to study protein and molecular linkages in hundreds of cells and test the molecules and their effects on biological systems.

Hsu said he expects student research publications to help discover new cancer therapies.

“I say to my students, ‘What other job can you have where your actions could be the first time this has ever been done?’ The impact of all this work could be new therapies or new drugs,” Hsu said. “You can really make a difference in society. That’s why we do it.

This story was originally published by The Daily Texan, the independent student-produced newspaper at the University of Texas.

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