Newswise — DALLAS – March 29, 2018 – The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) has awarded UT Southwestern researchers more than $27 million, including nearly $3 million for two key cancer screening programs in underserved areas:

  • A lung cancer screening and tobacco-cessation program through UT Southwestern’s Moncrief Cancer Institute in Fort Worth
  • A mobile screening initiative to help address the rising incidence of liver cancer in Texas, which has one of the highest rates in the nation

CPRIT awards also included Individual Investigator Awards for 15 UT Southwestern Medical Center faculty members for research into breast, prostate, brain, liver, kidney, and pediatric cancers, along with projects seeking innovative cancer therapies.

“Texas taxpayers’ support of CPRIT furthers research by UT Southwestern basic scientists, physician-scientists, and clinical investigators to learn more about how cancer occurs, to develop improved cancer therapies, and to step up prevention efforts. Among other efforts, these grants fund research on the role played by extra chromosomes in the development of liver cancer, continue work on a way to illuminate cancer, and support hepatitis C screening among baby boomers,” said Dr. Carlos L. Arteaga, Associate Dean of Oncology Programs and Director of UT Southwestern’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of just 49 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation. Dr. Arteaga holds the Lisa K. Simmons Distinguished Chair in Comprehensive Oncology.

UT Southwestern’s Moncrief Cancer Institute in Fort Worth currently provides screening for breast, colon, and cervical cancers in Tarrant and 35 underserved outlying counties, a service area including 6 million people. As of January 2018, these screening services have detected more than 1,700 cancers. The CPRIT cancer-prevention funding will allow expansion of these screening services to include lung cancer and hepatitis C, a precursor to liver cancer.  

Cancer prevention awards for underserved areas include: 

Lung Cancer Screenings

Dr. Keith Argenbright, Director of UT Southwestern’s Moncrief Cancer Institute in Fort Worth, to support a lung cancer screening and patient-navigation program, as well as funds for training screening personnel. ($1,499,997)

“This grant provides lung cancer education and outreach for about 100,000 people and screening for 2,500, combined with counseling and smoking-cessation programs,” said Dr. Argenbright, Chief of Community Health Sciences and Professor of Clinical Sciences, and Family and Community Medicine. “Building on our existing CPRIT-funded work in rural and underserved communities, this grant will provide a much-needed addition to the breast, cervical, and colon cancer screening currently offered aboard the Moncrief Cancer Institute custom-designed mobile health clinic.”

Within the proposed service region, approximately 15 percent of residents between the ages of 55 and 74 reported being active smokers, and the incidence of lung cancer is 61 per 100,000 residents, exceeding the state’s rate of 54.8 per 100,000. The mortality rate is also higher for this region: 44.9 per 100,000 compared with 40.4 per 100,000 in Texas. Lung cancer screening and tobacco-cessation programming for the service area is sparse, particularly for the priority population the project intends to serve.

Liver Cancer/Hep C Screening

Dr. Mamta Jain, Director of the HIV Research Unit at UT Southwestern, will conduct hepatitis C screening among baby boomers, with the goal of reducing the incidence of liver cancer. ($1,300,994)

The two-part program involves developing a population-based electronic alert at John Peter Smith Hospital and using a mobile van to screen residents in eight North Texas counties. The program aims to screen more than 20,000 patients through combined efforts at JPS and community outreach programming.

“Texas has the highest age-adjusted incidence of hepatocellular cancer and this rate continues to grow rapidly when other cancer incidence is decreasing. The majority of these liver cancers are due to hepatitis C. With this grant we hope to be able to increase hepatitis C screening and treatment in North Texas to help reduce the rate of liver cancer in our community,” said Dr. Jain, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine.

Texas maintains the second-highest incidence rate for HCC in the nation at 9.1 per 100,000 people and HCC is the fastest-growing cancer in the state. Of the 3,031 cases that occurred in Texas in 2015, nearly 8 percent were in Tarrant County and surrounding areas – the project service area.

Although hepatitis C virus (HCV) treatment is effective more than 90 percent of the time and currently is the most effective strategy for HCC prevention, more than 50 percent of HCV-infected individuals are unaware that they are infected. Under-recognition and under-treatment of HCV infection is particularly prevalent in racially diverse and socioeconomically disadvantaged populations served by safety-net health systems. The program team is experienced and well-positioned to address these barriers and to implement a proven, evidence-based approach to HCV screening and treatment.

In addition to these community outreach programs for underserved populations, UT Southwestern scientists received a combined $16 million in CPRIT Individual Investigator Awards for research into breast, prostate, brain, kidney, and pediatric cancers.

Investigators will study innovations to restore immunity against cancer, methods to combat cancer-therapy resistance, nanosensor technologies to illuminate cancer tissue to improve cancer staging, and tumor-activated enzyme inhibitors for the treatment of cancer. The CPRIT award also included grants totaling $8 million to help UT Southwestern recruit key cancer researchers to Texas. In total, UT Southwestern, which is recognizing its 75th anniversary this year, has been awarded $338 million by CPRIT since it began making awards in 2010.

UT Southwestern’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in North Texas, and among just 30 U.S. cancer research centers to be designated by the NCI as a National Clinical Trials Network Lead Academic Participating Site.

CPRIT, which was established in 2007, has the goal of bringing world-class research and cancer-prevention efforts to Texas. To date, CPRIT has awarded grants totaling $1.95 billion and has reached every county in Texas. The current round of CPRIT awards comprises 49 academic research grants and eight prevention grants totaling more than $73 million.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 22 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The faculty of more than 2,700 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in about 80 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients, 600,000 emergency room cases, and oversee approximately 2.2 million outpatient visits a year.