Researcher Lands Grant from Texas Cancer Initiative

Funding Supports Study of Molecules That Tell Tumor Cells to Shut Down and Die

Jan. 28, 2010

Molecules that attempt to trick cancer cells into killing themselves off are the latest weapons being tested to wage and win the war on cancer. The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) has awarded $886,000 to Dr. Jung-Mo Ahn to study a new class of molecules designed to wring the life out of prostate cancer cells. Ahn, an assistant professor of chemistry, is testing compounds called tris-benzamides.

Tris-benzamides may coax cancer cells into behaving like normal cells, which eventually allow themselves to die in a process called apoptosis, or programmed cell death.

“Cancer cells bypass apoptosis by overproducing anti-apoptotic proteins that block the cells from dying, so they live on and wreak havoc in the body,” Ahn said. “Our tris-benzamides are specially designed to lock into the surface of anti-apoptotic proteins. It gives cancer cells a wake-up call that it’s time to die off.”

“Our tris-benzamides are specially designed to lock into the surface of anti-apoptotic proteins. It gives cancer cells a wake-up call that it’s time to die off.”

Dr. Jung-Mo Ahn

Ahn, an organic and medicinal chemist, specializes in developing potential therapeutics to treat diabetes, sickle cell disease and cancer. His latest compounds will be tested first on prostate cancer, but Ahn said they also hold promise in breast cancer treatment. He plans to test the compounds on prostate cancer cells in the laboratory.

His funding was part of $61 million in grants issued by CPRIT. The funding marks the first wave of awards issued after Texas voters overwhelmingly approved the constitutional amendment that created CPRIT in 2007. Proposition 15 established the Institute and designated $3 billion over 10 years to fund cancer research and prevention. Funding from CPRIT requires researchers to provide a 50 percent match, which Ahn will meet with previous research awards and matching support from the University.

“Having a proposal accepted in this highly competitive program is an achievement in itself,” said Dr. John Ferraris, department head of chemistry. “I’m proud that Dr. Ahn’s work was judged of such high merit, and I look forward to the exciting results that will ensue from this research.”

Only 66 of 880 grant applications were awarded across the state. UT System institutions received 44 grants, totaling nearly $40 million. Ahn was the lone researcher awarded funding from Texas’ seven emerging research universities.

“Researchers of Dr. Ahn’s quality help propel UT Dallas toward our goal of becoming Tier One,” said Dr. Bruce Gnade, vice president for research. “We’re extremely pleased his work has been recognized alongside research from institutions like UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, UT M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and UT Health Science Center at Houston.”

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University, Texas A&M University System Health Science Center and other leading institutions also received CPRIT grants.


Media contacts: Brandon V. Webb, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, Brandon.webb@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu

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Compounds developed by Dr. Jung-Mo Ahn will be tested first on prostate cancer but may also hold promise in breast cancer treatment.   Jung-Mo Ahn

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