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Grant Recipients For Biomedical Research Into Tobacco-Related Illnesses Announced



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Grant Recipients For Biomedical Research Into Tobacco-Related Illnesses Announced

HARTFORD — The Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) announced the recipients of state funding for biomedical research projects into tobacco-related illnesses. A total of $1,359,095 was awarded by DPH from the Biomedical Research Trust Fund.

These funds will support five research projects.

“These five outstanding proposals were selected from a field of 11 highly competitive applications the department received in response to its request for proposals,” stated DPH Deputy Commissioner Norma Gyle, RN, PhD.

“While we have made considerable progress in the area of tobacco use prevention, tobacco-related illnesses continue to be leading causes of disability and death,” Dr Gyle said. “This research will help shine new light on how tobacco use contributes to chronic diseases, and move us forward in the effort to save lives of those stricken with cancer, heart disease, and other smoking-related diseases, which are leading causes of death in Connecticut.”

“The second round of funding for $1.3 million to these five biomedical research projects is a positive indication that Connecticut is moving forward with a strong commitment to carrying out the goals of the biomedical research bill, and that is to use a portion of the tobacco settlement funding to provide funding for research efforts to help fight cancer, heart disease, and other diseases that may be linked to smoking,” said Senator Joseph Crisco.

The following are brief summaries of the five studies:

Sven-Eric Jordt, PhD, of Yale University School of Medicine, will be granted $299,723 to conduct research on the effects of noxious chemicals in tobacco smoke on cough-inducing nerves in the airways. Dr Jordt’s studies are directed to identify the molecular targets for smoke toxicants and to study their roles in smoking-related changes in airway nerve function that underlie chronic cough, airway sensitization, and inflammation.

Marc Hansen, PhD, of the University of Connecticut Health Center, will receive $276,629 to identify genetic mutations that lead to acquired resistance to the cancer drug Trastuzumab (Herceptin) in women with advanced breast cancer. Approximately 70 percent of women whose breast cancers overexpress the gene erbB2 are either initially resistant to Herceptin treatment or become resistant to Herceptin.

While 40 percent of the cases of these breast cancers that are resistance to Herceptin appear to arise as a result of mutations in the gene PTEN, mutations in other genes may also cause resistance to Herceptin. The determination of alternative genetic mechanisms by which breast cancer cells develop resistance to Herceptin has the potential to have an impact on a significant fraction of women with breast cancer in Connecticut.

It may also have an important impact on the development of new therapies for treating advanced breast cancer by focusing researchers on developing new drug candidates that target erbB2 directly.

Dianquing (Dan) Wu, PhD, of the University of Connecticut Health Center will receive $167, 800 to conduct research into colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the world and the State, and smoking is an important factor that influences its occurrence.

Previous studies have shown that aberrant Wnt signaling activity plays a key role in the formation of this cancer. In this research proposal, Dr Wu’s team will test small Wnt antagonistic compounds that have been previously identified for their ability to block the tumor formation. The proposed work will provide not only new insights into the pathogenic basis for the formation of this cancer, but also potential therapeutic targets and agents for treating this disease.

Elizabeth Triche, PhD, of Yale University School of Medicine will receive $349,893 to conduct a cohort study of low-income pregnant women who smoked at least ten cigarettes per day for at least a year prior to pregnancy. This study will test whether polymorphisms in genes regulating neurotransmitter pathways are related to smoking cessation during pregnancy, and to relapse after pregnancy.

Joanne B. Weidhaas, MD, PhD, and Frank Slack, Ph.D., of Yale University, will be granted $265,000 to determine if a novel small regulatory molecule, let-7, can be used to understand the molecular pathogenesis of lung cancer and can also be exploited for use as a novel screening tool and prevention therapy.

According to state health officials, tobacco is the single most preventable cause of mortality and morbidity in our society. In Connecticut, tobacco use is associated with more than 5,000 deaths per year. These deaths are primarily caused by cancer, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Tobacco also causes secondary adverse health effects to nonsmokers exposed to environmental tobacco smoke. Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke is a significant cause of morbidity in children that manifests itself in diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia.

Furthermore, tobacco use has significant medical costs. In 2001, estimated annual health care expenditures in Connecticut directly related to tobacco use totaled $1.2 billion or about $400 per capita.

These awards represent the second round of proposals funded by DPH. During the first year, awards were given to Yale University and UConn Health Center pursuant to Section 19a-32c: “Biomedical Research Trust Fund. Transfers from Tobacco Settlement Fund. Grants-in-aid.” In November 2005 DPH issued a second Request for Proposal to conduct new research or to enhance existing research projects in the fields of heart disease, cancer, and other tobacco-related illnesses.

Applications were accepted from Connecticut-based, nonprofit, tax-exempt academic institutions and hospitals that conduct biomedical research.

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