On The Daily: Michigan Medicine cancer researcher receives $6.5 million from the National Cancer Institute

Tuesday, September 11, 2018 - 2:54pm

Arul Chinnaiyan, a member of the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center, has received an Outstanding Investigator Award and $6.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute. Over the next seven years, this grant will fund Chinnaiyan in his research on understanding genetic markers and cancer treatments that can be targeted to specific markers.

“The grant will fund research to create new bioinformatics resources and identify new cancer biomarkers to improve diagnosis and ultimately to develop new targeted therapies,” a Michigan Medicine press release said.

The Outstanding Investigator Award, rather than funding a specific project, presents leading researchers with support through a grant nearly three times the amount of a traditional individual investigator award. Through R35, a grant program developed by the National Cancer Institute, the seven-year extended period of funding is designed to provide flexible, long-term support to investigators.

“The field of precision oncology continues to evolve with the overarching goal of providing cancer patients with enhanced diagnostic and prognostic capabilities and better treatments,” Chinnaiyan said. “This grant will help us identify new biomarkers and understand their biological roles in cancer progression.”

Chinnaiyan, who is also the director of the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology and the S.P. Hicks Endowed Professor of Pathology and Urology at the University of Michigan Medical School, is considered one of the nation’s top researchers in precision oncology. He founded the Michigan Oncology Sequencing Program at the Rogel Cancer Center in 2010, which has enrolled over 3,000 patients and has produced several publications. The program researches the sequencing of DNA and RNA of metastatic cancers and normal tissue to seek changes that could help to improve treatment.

Chinnaiyan’s lab has also analyzed long non-coding RNAs, a part of the human genome that has been relatively unexplored. New information suggests that further research on lncRNAs could allow for improving cancer diagnosis, prognosis or treatment. The award received will assist in this research.

“We want to further characterize the dark matter of the genome. Some of these lncRNAs will certainly be very useful as cancer biomarkers and we think a subset are important in biological processes,” Chinnaiyan said. “We hope to make it commonplace for patients to have a molecular blueprint of their tumor to guide treatment choices.”