The Saint Louis University Research Institute has awarded more than $740,000 in grants in its second round of funding to accelerate research growth at SLU. Launched in September 2018 through investments made possible by Accelerating Excellence: The Campaign for Saint Louis University, the SLU Research Institute provides critical funding to support faculty and researchers whose interests span the University. Its role furthers the campaign’s overall goal of propelling SLU to national prominence as a world-class research university and, more specifically, enhances the University’s academic excellence – one of the key priorities of the historic $500 million fundraising effort.
Out of more than 70 proposals submitted, 13 were selected. They included studies in a variety of fields, including law, anthropology and education. Among them, seven of the awarded projects focused on the health sciences:
The award supports research on natural killer (NK) cells, white blood cells that are the body’s first defense against tumors and viruses. Kornbluth’s lab developed the only normal human NK cell line to date, called NK3.3. Her lab also recently found that NK3.3 cells release extracellular vesicles (EVs) that are extremely effective in killing tumor cells but do not kill normal cells. EVs are in Phase I trials to induce anti-tumor immune responses. The Kornbluth lab discovered that NK-derived EVs kill cancer stem cells, which evade chemotherapy and lead to metastasis and relapse. This grant will cover personnel to perform the needed laborintensive studies. These funds will accelerate studies to evaluate NK EVs as an “off-the-shelf” treatment of many different types of cancer.
The award will help develop assays to screen SLU-owned libraries of small molecules that can be developed into anti-fungal drugs. This project will build on existing capacity at SLU in medicinal chemistry and drug discovery work in the human fungal pathogen, Cryptococcus neoformans.
This grant will enable research into anticancer effects of bioactive compounds. Phytochemicals offer an approach to cancer prevention with less toxicity and side effects than current chemotherapy. The primary investigator focuses on signaling pathways and epigenetic mechanisms that give phytochemicals their anticancer effect.
Hawiger has invented a method to deliver specific T cell antigens to dendritic cells, using genetically modified species-specific, recombinant chimeric antibodies. This frequently cited research (approaching 2,000 citations) was discussed during a 2012 Nobel prize lecture. Further, these approaches were successfully considered in developing antitumor and anti-microbe vaccines.
Hawiger has now identified a specific dendritic cell molecule, called BTLA, that governs activation of autoimmune and potentially anti-tumor cells. This grant will help develop a platform based on this discovery, which could open new avenues to treat autoimmune diseases and cancer. Particularly, it could radically improve “check point blockade” therapies that now create serious side effects.
This grant will be used to build a device which improves patient positioning during head-and-neck cancer radiation therapy. Patient misalignment leads to cancer recurrence, which is noncurable. Globally, approximately 600,000 patients per year can benefit from this research.
In the past decade, childhood speech disorders have been remedied by using ultrasound to visualize lingual movements. Despite this revolution, only one case report has been published on the feasibility of ultrasound for an adult-acquired disorder. With a generous donation from Mr. Dominic and Mrs. Annette Barczewski to Dr. Postman’s Neuro-Rehabilitation of Language Laboratory, an ultrasound system has been purchased to fill this gap. This grant from the Research Growth Fund will secure ancillary equipment for this research and help disseminate results.