A pair of young and promising scientists with fresh ideas for oncological research have recently been recruited by the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). Wa Xian, Ph.D., a stem cell researcher, and Leng Han, Ph.D., a computational biologist, were awarded $3.7 million and $2 million, respectively, from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) to help further their investigations.
“The CPRIT program has been tremendously important to help us recruit some of the most outstanding young scientists in cancer research who will help us to continue to build excellence in this and related research areas in the future,” said George Stancel, Ph.D., executive vice president for academic and research affairs and holder of the Roger J. Bulger, M.D., Distinguished Professorship at UTHealth. “These are the type of young investigators who will develop into our future institutional leaders in this area and the CPRIT support is critically important to help us recruit them to UTHealth.”
“Dr. Xian brings a cutting-edge approach to tissue-specific stem cells that can be used to develop cell therapies and further the understanding of disease,” said Brian R. Davis, Ph.D., director of the Center for Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine at the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases at UTHealth.
Dr. Xian is aware that despite the many advances in ovarian cancer treatment, a small population of cells may be treatment-resistant and could lead to cancer relapse. “In my lab, we are generating patient-specific libraries of cancer stem cells to identify and target a particularly nasty subset that survives chemotherapy and comes back as a repeat disease,” said Dr. Xian, an assistant professor at UTHealth Medical School.
Dr. Han will be exploring the molecular channels between 20 distinct types of cancer, including cancer of the pancreas and breast. Specifically, Han will be attempting to identify RNA that helps differentiate cancer cells from normal cells. “We already have huge volumes of data on DNA and RNA sequences from cancer patients,” said Dr. Han, assistant professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “The challenge is to interpret this vast amount of sequence information and I’m developing computational pipelines to address this challenge. When we get a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of cancer, we can develop better diagnostic and therapeutic strategies.”
“Dr. Han’s extensive experience with next generation sequence data from large cancer data resources has prepared him for this research,” concluded Rod Kellems, Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at UTHealth.