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Moffitt gets millions for cancer study

Researchers at Moffitt Cancer Center have won a hefty federal grant aimed at helping them parlay discoveries about the biological makeup of some cancers into new cancer-fighting drugs.

The National Cancer Institute gave the team of doctors and scientists at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute the five-year, $5.7-million grant to assist its study of specific molecules that are believed to help tumors flourish.

It is a nationally prestigious grant and the largest Moffitt has ever received.

Molecular targeting, as the process is called, marks the latest wave in cancer research. It involves finding the molecule, or series of molecules, that is responsible for allowing tumors to grow or that could kill them.

Once those molecules are identified, rearchers hope, they can manipulate them to prevent or treat a variety of cancers.

"The success in basic science and the understanding of the biology of cancer has been overwhelming in the last few years, and there's an incredible amount of information coming out," said Dr. William Dalton, deputy director of Moffitt and principal investigator of its Molecular Oncology Program Project, which received the grant.

"The challenge now is to be able to translate these basic scientific findings into treatments."

The project is based on earlier work by Dalton and Moffitt researcher Richard Jove on multiple myeloma, an uncommon but devastating form of bone cancer. In an article published last year in the Journal of Immunity, the pair described how a single molecule, a protein called STAT3, seems to keep myeloma cells from dying.

If scientists could figure out how to disable that molecule, Dalton said, they should be able to keep the cancer from multiplying.

Moffitt researchers are trying to apply the same principle to several biologically similar cancers, including cancers of the breast, prostate, ovary, head and neck. The NCI grant will go toward the study of three molecules, including STAT3, they've identified as key to the growth of those cancer cells.

The money also will help finance six clinical trials aimed at testing new drugs, and new ways of using existing drugs, that target those three molecules. The drugs are being used on patients with myeloma, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and leukemia.

The NCI has awarded $66.4-million this year to foster molecular targeting, and Moffitt's grant is among the largest, the agency said. Although the work is very promising, Dalton cautioned that finding new weapons against cancer is an incremental process, and this doesn't portend a miracle cure.