Tuesday, June 29, 2010
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — In its latest round of research grants funded annually by tobacco tax dollars, the Florida Department of Health has awarded five investigators at the Jacksonville campus of Mayo Clinic almost $6.5 million over five years. Their projects range from identifying new mutations in breast tumors and understanding cellular changes that lead to kidney cancer to testing novel therapies to treat common lung cancer.
These Florida Biomedical Research Program grants are highly competitive, according to the Department of Health's Office of Public Health Research. More than 300 applications were received from 22 institutions, and 73 Florida scientists were selected to receive grants totaling more than $45.5 million starting July 1.
The grants are awarded on merit following a competition and are earmarked for innovative research seeking new insights into the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and/or cure of cancer and tobacco-related diseases.
Funding comes primarily from taxes collected from the sale of tobacco products. Tobacco remains the single leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., and up to 369,000 Florida children face premature death as a result of tobacco use or exposure, according to the Florida Department of Health.
The grants serve as a vital lifeline for researchers who compete for ever-dwindling federal research dollars, says Alexander Parker, Ph.D., an assistant professor of epidemiology at Mayo Clinic. He received two of the new grants.
"This is a wonderful program, with the best intentions and efficient execution," he says. "These grants provide a different kind of funding that keeps physicians, researchers, and biomedical laboratories working together in Florida."
Dr. Parker's grants are multi-institutional in nature. He received a $1.2 million, five-year grant to investigate the underlying causes of renal cell carcinoma, a common form of kidney cancer that is increasing in Florida and the rest of the United States. While it is well known that smoking and obesity increase a person's risk of developing renal cell carcinoma, "we don't know exactly how these factors work at the cellular level within the kidney to increase this risk," he says.
In an effort to find out, Dr. Parker is partnering with researchers at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., to recruit 1,400 patients with kidney cancer and 1,400 cancer-free control subjects. Researchers will examine differences in the data and tissue samples collected from the two different groups. "By doing this, we will have the potential to enhance our understanding of how these common exposures increase a person's risk of developing kidney cancer, which could lead to new strategies to prevent or treat the disease," he says.
Dr. Parker is also part of a team of investigators from three other institutions — the University of Miami, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, and MD Anderson Cancer Center in Orlando — that are taking different approaches to combat bladder cancer. Dr. Parker and colleagues, through a $300,000 project funded as part of this Team Science grant, will seek to understand why smoking is strongly linked to development of bladder cancer. He and his team will compare tissue samples from bladder cancer patients who have a history of heavy cigarette smoking with samples from bladder cancer patients who never smoked cigarettes.
"This team approach that brings together researchers from a variety of different disciplines to address a particular cancer is very exciting," Dr. Parker says. "It is exactly what is needed to make significant gains over the next decade."
Other grants awarded to Mayo investigators include:
Journalists can become a member of the Mayo Clinic News Network for the latest health, science and research news and access to video, audio, text and graphic elements that can be downloaded or embedded.
Learn more about becoming a patient at Mayo Clinic in the Patient & Visitor Guide.