Ten imaginative ideas for fighting cancer funded by the Kuni Foundation

First row: Ramon Barajas, Ted Braun, James and Catherine Galbraith. Second row: Adel Kardosh, James Korkola, Naoki Oshimori, Fouad Otaki. Third row: Tanja Pejovic, Andrea Stroud, Vivek Unni, Galip Gürkan Yardimci.

Bring cancer screening to underserved places with simplified tests that don’t require a doctor. Disrupt the niche of cancer stem cells so they can’t regenerate tumors. Defeat brain tumors by pushing cells into a hibernation-like state. These are some of the ideas scientists at OHSU are pursuing with the latest round of Imagination Grants for Cancer Research from the Kuni Foundation in Vancouver, Washington.

The grants are part of the foundation’s commitment to funding innovative cancer research that promotes early detection, enhances treatment and improves outcomes. The awards also aim to support underfunded areas of research, including rare cancers, improving outcomes for underserved communities and children’s cancer.

In the cancer screening project, Fouad Otaki, M.D., will pilot the use of swallowable esophageal cell-collection devices in two remote rural primary care clinics in Oregon. The devices offer a safe, minimally invasive, accurate, and low-cost way to screen for esophageal cancer without the need for endoscopy performed by a doctor. Otaki and colleagues will evaluate the performance and acceptability of the device, and for individuals who test positive they will develop streamlined diagnostic and treatment pathways that transition them into OHSU’s esophageal cancer center for further workup.

After successful cancer treatment, lingering cancer stem cells can start the revival of tumors by means of remarkable self-renewal and differentiation properties. Naoki Oshimori, Ph.D., and colleagues recently showed that cancer stem cells can protect themselves by establishing a secure niche microenvironment. They have implicated some likely signaling pathways between cancer stem cells and immune cells called macrophages that help create the protective niche. They aim to find ways to target the signaling to make cancer stem cells vulnerable and unable to regenerate tumors.

In hibernating animals, evidence suggests that the torpor-like state is capable of reprogramming the immune microenvironment for improved targeted killing of tumor cells. Ramon Barajas, M.D., is leading an effort to treat brain tumors using a combination of immunotherapy and an induced torpor-like state. Funding from the Kuni Foundation will allow the researchers to systematically perform the key studies of combination therapy in animal models of glioblastoma.

Each of the following award-winning researchers will receive $75,000 over the next year:

Ramon Barajas, M.D., associate professor of diagnostic radiology

Using Hibernation as a Novel Immunotherapy in the Fight Against Glioblastoma

Ted Braun, M.D. Ph.D., assistant professor, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology, and  Galip Gürkan Yardimci, Ph.D., assistant professor, Division of Oncological Sciences

Understanding the role of three-dimensional genome structure in leukemia development

Catherine Galbraith, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering, and James Galbraith, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering

Biometric Microscopy – Obtaining the molecular fingerprint of a cancer cell’s metastatic machinery

Adel Kardosh, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor, Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology

Advancing Precision Oncology for Rare Pancreatic Adenosquamous Carcinomas

James Korkola, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering

Senescence as a driver of early breast cancer formation

Naoki Oshimori, Ph.D., assistant professor of cell, developmental and cancer biology

Destabilizing cancer stem cell niche to reduce tumor recurrence

Fouad Otaki, M.D., assistant professor, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology

Screening for esophageal cancer in rural Oregon without an endoscopy

Tanja Pejovic, M.D., Ph.D. , professor of obstetrics and gynecology

Targeting YBX-1/PD-1 Pathways to Overcome Immunosuppression in Clear Cell Ovarian Cancer

Andrea Stroud, M.D., assistant professor of surgery

Metabolomic Signatures of Breast Cancer: A Case-Control Study of the LABS-2 Cohort

Vivek Unni, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurology

The role of alpha-synuclein in nucleolar DNA repair and melanoma biology