Department of Defense Grant to Research Cancer Metastasis

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Department of Defense Grant to Research Cancer Metastasis

The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded an OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences researcher a $1.78 million grant to study the process of cancer metastasis, a tragic reality that affects the mission readiness of the military.

The four-year grant was awarded to Natarajan Aravindan, Ph.D., who is an associate professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology in the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine and a researcher at OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center.

Cancer metastasis — the spread of cancer cells from the place where they first formed to another part of the body — is the primary cause of death for more than 90% of people with cancer, not the original tumor. Because active-duty members of the military may face a higher risk for some types of cancer as compared to the general U.S. population, the Department of Defense funds efforts to discover new methods of stopping the progression of cancer. In this study, Aravindan will focus on the metastatic process of neuroblastoma, glioblastoma, endometrial, bladder, colon, thyroid, and head and neck cancers.

Aravindan’s research focuses on a protein called retinal degeneration 3 (RD3), which scientists previously thought only existed in the eye. Aravindan’s research team was the first to demonstrate that RD3 is produced in all human tissues. However, some types of cancer cells lack RD3, and it is that absence that appears to drive metastasis and make cancer resistant to treatment. Restoring RD3 to cancer cells could improve patients’ survival.

Aravindan will use the new grant to further understand how RD3 loss allows cancer to progress, and he will test the effectiveness of delivering RD3 into the tumor by itself and in combination with existing cancer treatments.

“The research is not only going to benefit the military by decreasing the impact of cancer on active-duty service members, their families and veterans, but potentially benefits all cancer patients,” Aravindan said.

Aravindan’s grant is called an Impact Award and is awarded through the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs of the Department of Defense.