Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program scholar Ying Liang, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of toxicology and cancer biology at the University of Kentucky (UK), recently received her first NIH Research Project Grant (R01). The R01 grant will fund her research on the role of a protein called latexin in preventing cancer therapy-induced stem cell damage.
The 2015 applicant success rate for R01-equivalent NIH grants was just 18.9 percent, and Liang credits NCATS’ CTSA Program training support ― known as a KL2 award ― as being instrumental in overcoming the odds. UK’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science faculty members selected her as a KL2 scholar in 2012, and with those funds, she set out to identify how latexin makes blood and stem cells more susceptible to damage induced by cancer therapy.
“In addition to the KL2 funding for my research, I received guidance from a multidisciplinary team of research and career development mentors and coursework on research methods, protocol development and grant writing,” Liang said.
Chemotherapy and radiation target cancer by killing rapidly dividing tumor cells; however, they also damage rapidly dividing healthy cells and stem cells in the bone marrow. This damage can cause bleeding problems and increase the risks of infection and secondary cancers. Liang and her team found that mice that carried bone marrow stem cells genetically engineered to make less latexin had much lower rates of radiation-induced complications and death than control mice. The findings suggested that latexin could be a potential target for treatments that help prevent radiation-related stem cell damage.
Providing the resources to train, cultivate and sustain future leaders of the translational research workforce is a key NCATS goal and a major emphasis for the CTSA Program. Most CTSA Program hubs have a Clinical Research Scholar (KL2) program for those who have a doctoral degree in medicine or the sciences. KL2 awards support mentored career development for investigators who have recently completed professional training and are just starting out in their research careers.
With the R01 support, Liang and her team will continue to tease apart the mechanisms by which latexin makes stem cells vulnerable to cancer therapy. A more thorough understanding of the protein’s function is an important first step toward developing a therapy to prevent radiation-induced complications in cancer patients.
Posted July 2016