The Scoop: A Publication of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston

UT leads collaborative initiative for innovative cancer research

Dr. Mauro Ferrari

Dr. Mauro Ferrari

A consortium led by the Health Science Center has been awarded a major grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to establish a center to conduct innovative cancer research. The center will receive $2.4 million during the first year and could receive funds totaling $11.6 million over a 5-year period. The new center is called the Center for Transport Oncophysics (CTO).

The CTO is one of the first 12 Physical Sciences-Oncology Centers (PS-OCs) being created by the NCI in an effort to bring a new cadre of theoretical physicists, mathematicians, chemists, and engineers to the study of cancer. The consortium also includes the UT M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, The University of Texas at Austin, Rice University, and Harvard University/Massachusetts General Hospital.

Ultimately, through coordinated development and testing of novel approaches to studying cancer processes, the network of PS-OCs is expected to generate new bodies of knowledge in order to identify and define critical aspects of physics, chemistry, and engineering that operate at all levels in cancer processes.

“By bringing a fresh set of eyes to the study of cancer, these new centers have great potential to advance, and sometimes challenge, accepted theories about cancer and its supportive microenvironment,” said NCI Director Dr. John Niederhuber. “Physical scientists think in terms of time, space, pressure, heat, and evolution in ways that we hope will lead to new understandings of the multitude of forces that govern cancer — and with that understanding, we hope to develop new and innovative methods of arresting tumor growth and metastasis.”

“The Center for Transport Oncophysics will focus on understanding how biological molecules and drugs are transported in cancer and healthy tissues. This will allow a new vision, a new prism through which to look at cancer and exploit its weaknesses to mount decisive attacks against its most damaging forms, such as metastatic and locally advanced disease,” said Dr. Mauro Ferrari, who is the CTO's principal investigator and who has faculty appointments at all the consortium institutions in Texas.

“The CTO is a broadly interdisciplinary quest, which links world-famous clinicians and cancer biologists at M. D. Anderson with nanomedicine, biomathematics, imaging, and drug-delivery experts at The UT Health Science Center at Houston, Rice, UT Austin, and Harvard. It is a great team that can achieve unprecedented results. It is a coronation of the concept of collaborations beyond institutional and disciplinary boundaries — another great success of the Alliance for NanoHealth,” said Ferrari, chair of the Department of NanoMedicine and Biomedical Engineering.

In addition to research traditionally focused on the biology of tumors, CTO researchers aim to investigate the differences in transport phenomena that characterize neoplastic disease and to establish methods for the exploitation of these differentials for advances in the diagnosis and therapy of cancer.

CTO investigators will focus on research projects targeting liver cancers. The researchers believe primary liver cancer and cancer that spreads to the liver from tumors that originate in other parts of the body will help them learn more about the spread of tumors in general. Research projects include learning more about the biobarriers that keep cancer therapeutic agents from reaching tumors and investigating how to concentrate more agent at the site of a tumor.

Co-leading the consortium is Dr. Steven Curley, professor in M. D. Anderson's Department of Surgical Oncology. “This novel collaboration will help us sharpen a promising potential therapy that destroys tumors by using radio waves to heat up gold nanoparticles embedded inside them,” Curley said.

This approach was invented by the late John Kanzius, an entrepreneur, former radio station owner, and M. D. Anderson patient who knew that radio waves, which usually pass harmlessly through the body, will cook any metal in their path. “The key to making this work is to so precisely target nanoparticles to the tumor that you destroy the tumor with radio waves while sparing other tissue,” Curley said. “The CTO will address that central issue.”

Ferrari serves as professor of experimental therapeutics at M. D. Anderson, adjunct professor of bioengineering at Rice University, adjoint professor of biomedical engineering at UT Austin, adjunct professor of mathematics and mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, and president of the Alliance for NanoHealth, Houston. Ferrari serves as the UT Health Science Center chair of the inter-institutional Department of Biomedical Engineering formed in collaboration with M.D. Anderson and UT Austin College of Engineering.

NCI has awarded grants to 12 institutions, which will be the focal points of a research network that will span the country. More information about the Physical Science-Oncology Centers program can be found at

— Robert Cahill, Office of Institutional Advancement, Media Relations

Medical School researchers honored as young investigators

Three Medical School faculty members were honored for their achievements as Young Investigators at the Health Science Center’s fifth annual luncheon last month.

Dr. Cesar Arias, assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Internal Medicine, was recognized for his work with clinical and molecular aspects of antimicrobial resistance, with emphasis on gram-positive bacteria.

Dr. Shaoling Huang, assistant professor in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine, was recognized for her work with acoustically active liposomes for ultrasound-controlled/enhanced pharmaceutical delivery in atherosclerosis.

Dr. Nicole R. Gonzales, assistant professor in the Department of Neurology, was honored for her research of neuroprotection in ischemic stroke, acute treatment of ischemic stroke, and stroke prevention and education.

Dr. Cesar Arias receives his award from Dr. Barbara Murray.

Dr. Cesar Arias receives his
award from Dr. Barbara Murray.

Dr. Shaoling Huang receives her award from Dr. Melvin Klegerman.

Dr. Shaoling Huang receives
her award from Dr. Melvin

Dr. Nicole Gonzales receives her award from Dr. James Grotta.

Dr. Nicole Gonzales receives
her award from Dr. James

American Academy of Pediatrics honors Andrassy

Dr. Richard Andrassy

Dr. Richard Andrassy

Dr. Richard Andrassy, professor and Denton A. Cooley Chair in Surgery, has been honored with the Arnold M. Salzberg Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The award is given to pediatric surgeons who have distinguished themselves as mentors to pediatric surgical trainees.

Andrassy, chair of the Department of Surgery and also the holder of the Jack H. Mayfield Distinguished University Chair, has been on the faculty at the Medical School for nearly 25 years. He is an attending surgeon at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Study on vaccine to prevent cytomegalovirus seeks volunteers

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston is currently conducting a study about cytomegalovirus (CMV) in adolescent girls. CMV is a common cause of mild upper respiratory illness, sometimes with fever and enlarged lymph nodes, in children of all ages. CMV can be passed from a mother to her unborn infant during pregnancy and cause more serious consequences. The researchers are interested in learning how to prevent this virus in young women.

The study is recruiting girls 12 to 17 years of age, who:

  • Have not received a blood or blood product transfusion in 3 months
  • Have no significant medical illness
  • Are willing to have blood drawn once (approximately 10cc or 2 teaspoons),
  • Can come to The University of Texas Clinical Research Unit. The visit will be approximately 1 hour long, and parking will be reimbursed.

Volunteers will receive $40 for their time and will receive a certificate acknowledging their participation. Some volunteers will be invited to participate in a related CMV vaccine study.

To learn more about this study, which is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, please call the clinical research unit at 713.704.4137, or contact Monika Ruscheinsky.

Fishing for fun

Ida Gordon, right, and Elizabeth Green prepare to take third and second respectively during the Employee Relations Committee Halloween Constume Contest Oct. 30.

Ida Gordon, right, and Elizabeth Green prepare to take third and second, respectively, during the Employee Relations Committee Halloween Costume Contest Oct. 30.
— Chris Matula, Office of Communications, Medical School


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Events to Know

October 29 – December 4

Book sale at the Texas Medical Center Library. Sale includes duplicate and out-of-scope books to benefit the library’s historical collections.
For more information, call 713.799.7139.

November 6-8

2009 Advanced Rhinology Concepts (ARC) CME event focusing on the comprehensive medical and surgical management of diseases of the nose and paranasal sinuses.
Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and the Medical School.
Presented by the Department of Otorhinolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery. For more information, call 713.500.5410, or visit

November 9

Monday Meditation: McGovern Center invites all students, faculty, and staff to participate in noon-time meditation sessions. Floor pillows and/or chairs will be available. No RSVP required.
Noon–12:50 p.m., 410 JJL.
For more details, contact Dr. Alejandro Chaoul.

Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Seminar: Dr. Joel Robert Neilson (Baylor) presents, “Global Analysis of 3’ Untranslated Region Dynamics in Cellular Activation and Transformation.”
Noon, MSB 2.135.

Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Seminar Series: Dr. Joseph Petrosino (Baylor) presents, “Tularemia.”
Noon, MSB B.612.

November 11

Topics in Neurobiology of Disease: The Developing Brain: Dr. Pauline Filipek, visiting professor of pediatrics, presents, “Autistic Spectrum Disorders 101.”
Noon, MSB 7.037.
Sponsored by the Neuroscience Research Center and GSBS.

Psychiatry CME Grand Rounds: Dr. Rakesh Jain, director of Psychiatric Drug Research for R/D Clinical Research.
Noon, HCPC Auditorium.

Family & Community Medicine Grand Rounds: Dr. Adan Rios, visiting associate professor of oncology, presents, “Acute Leukemia: What Should I Not Do.”
1–2 p.m., MSB 2.135.

November 12

Department of Surgery Grand Rounds: Dr. James H. “Red” Duke, Jr., M.D., John B. Holmes Professor of Clinical Sciences and professor of surgery, presents, “The Inevitability of Change.”
7 a.m., MSB 3.001.
CME credit is available.

Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Seminar Series: Dr. Yasuko Rikihisa (Ohio State University) presents, “Type IV secretion system of obligatory intracellular bacteria.”
4 p.m., MSB 2.103.
Reception to follow in MSB 1.180.

Neurobiology and Anatomy Seminar Series: Dr. Greg DeAngelis (University of Rochester) presents, “Neural Mechanisms Of Multi-Sensory Cue Integration For Self-Motion Perception.”
4 p.m., MSB 2.135.

Geriatric and Palliative Medicine Division Lecture and Dinner for the Reynolds Visiting Professor Program (RsVP): Dr. Laurie Jacobs (Albert Einstein College of Medicine) presents, “Oral Anticoagulation for Older Adults in 2009: Is this Warfarins Last Stand?”
5:30 p.m., MSB 5.001.
To attend, send name, credentials, affiliation, and phone to Rhonda Bailes.

November 16

Monday Meditation: McGovern Center invites all students, faculty, and staff to participate in noon-time meditation sessions. Floor pillows and/or chairs will be available. No RSVP required.
Noon–12:50 p.m., 410 JJL.
For more details, contact Dr. Alejandro Chaoul.

Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Seminar: Dr. Daniel Finley (Harvard) presents, “Assembly and Regulation of the Proteasome.”
Noon, MSB 2.135.

Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology Seminar: Dr. Grace Pavlath (Emory) presents, “Olfactory Receptors and Tissue Repair in Skeletal Muscle.”
4–5 p.m., MSB 2.135.


James H. “Red” Duke, Jr., M.D., holder of the John B. Holmes Professorship in the Clinical Sciences, received the Rick Smith Spirit of Texas Award from the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame in Fort Worth.

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