Cancer research gets boost from Community Foundation for Southern Arizona grants

Cancer research gets boost from Community Foundation for Southern Arizona grants

With support from a $100,000 gift from the Sidney Hopkins & Mayola V. Vail Family Fund Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, researchers will study if cancer patients’ tumors can be tracked to determine the best therapy before treatment begins, and to quickly determine if the prescribed treatment is effective.

University of Arizona Cancer Center researchers Mark “Marty” Pagel, PhD, and G. Michael Lemole, Jr., MD, will split the grant for their separate studies. Dr. Pagel is director of the UA’s Contrast Agent Molecular Engineering Lab and is an associate professor of Biomedical Engineering and Chemistry & Biochemistry. Dr. Lemole is chief of the Division of Neurosurgery and an associate professor of surgery at the University of Arizona Department of Surgery.

Each researcher’s goal is to quickly track tumors’ response to drug therapy.

Dr. Pagel will use the grant funding to study how magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can measure the tumor’s acid content and predict the effectiveness of chemotherapies before a patient starts the medication.

“Just as people ‘feel the burn’ from lactic acid produced in their muscles during rigorous exercise, tumors also produce lactic acid when they are actively growing. This acid destroys surrounding tissue, which allows the tumor to grow, invade surrounding tissues and metastasize to other organs in the body. The acid also provides resistance to common therapies,” Dr. Pagel said.

Dr. Pagel said the chemical intended for the test is already approved for clinical X-ray imaging which should speed introduction of clinical trials with the MRI method.

“Our goal is to prove that this unique and innovative imaging technique will help to prescribe the best medication for each patient with breast cancer, which can lead to personalized medicine for each individual,” he said.

Dr. Lemole’s work will examine the level of the serum enzyme Nagalase as a marker in brain tumors. In other types of cancer, levels of this serum decline in relation to the tumor’s positive response to therapy.

“Some studies have even suggested that Nagalase is a more specific serum tumor marker than more widely recognized markers such as PSA, because Nagalase levels are not associated with non-neoplastic, inflammatory responses,” Dr. Lemole said.

Dr. Lemole said no studies have been done to correlate this serum biomarker with tumor burden, progression and prognosis in patients with brain tumors.

Both Dr. Pagel and Dr. Lemole say the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona could pave the way for larger, federal grants to continue the research.