A microscope used in cancer research at UC San Diego. Courtesy of the university

A UC San Diego School of Medicine pathology professor received a $4.2 million award from the National Cancer Institute to continue his research on cancer adaptation and drug resistance, the university announced Friday.

David Cheresh, who is vice chair of the Department of Pathology, received the Outstanding Investigator Award, which provides award winners $600,000 per year in research funding for seven years. According to the NCI, the award solves the problem cancer researchers often face: not knowing how long their funding will last.

“It is quite an honor to have this level of support from the National Cancer Institute and be recognized among many worthy scientists in the field of cancer research,” Cheresh said. “The resources that the Outstanding Investigator Award provides researchers flexibility and the opportunity to think outside of the box.”

Cheresh joined UCSD’s Moores Cancer Center in 2005 and has focused on the study of angiogenesis, the growth of blood vessels and tumors in blood vessels. In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a therapy identified by Cheresh for neuroblastoma, a cancer strain that develops in immature nerve cells.

With the funding, Cheresh plans to look deeper into a molecule he previously identified as critical to blood vessel development and the development of drug resistance in tumors. The molecule allows tumors and cancer cells to better adapt to drugs and/or cancer therapy, causing the cells to become high metastatic.

“Typically, tumors are devoid of oxygen, nutrients or exist in highly oxidative state, all of which represent environmental stresses that tumor cells can adapt to,” Cheresh said. “We have been asking: How do tumor cells adapt to these stresses? It turns out that tumor cells are not that different from normal cells undergoing wound repair.”

Cheresh and his colleagues are still in the process of finding possible counteractions to the molecule, including the use of newer cancer- fighting drugs. Clinical trials are currently underway, the researcher said.

— City News Service

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