UT Southwestern Medical Center has received $1.2 million in appropriations from the Department of Defense for 2009. The funding adds to $2 million secured in 2007 and 2008 and will continue collaborative studies with UT Dallas into groundbreaking research projects with the goal of combining nanotechnology and molecular medicine to treat diseases such as cancer and autoimmune-related ailments.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a longtime supporter of the medical center's research, secured the latest appropriation, as well as the earlier federal grants.
"The importance of Sen. Hutchison's consistent staunch support for research to the future of Texas and this nation cannot be overstated," said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, president of UT Southwestern. "Without doubt, this funding will serve as a catalyst for further research, competitive grants, and our ability to translate basic discovery to clinical and commercial application."
Dr. Ellen Vitetta, director of the Cancer Immunobiology Center at UT Southwestern, and Dr. Rockford Draper, professor of molecular and cell biology at UT Dallas, conceived the 2007 nanotechnology project for cancer therapies. The researchers later broadened the scope for a nanotechnology project in cellular therapies in 2008 and 2009.
"Nanotechnology allows scientists to deliver tiny payloads to tumor cells, to manipulate cellular pathways in cells and to introduce genes and proteins into cells," said Dr. Vitetta. "We're very excited about the therapeutic possibilities that could result from such research."
Sen. Hutchison's 2007 appropriations helped support breakthroughs in which Dr. Vitetta, Dr. Draper and their colleagues tested a new way to kill cancer cells selectively by attaching cancer-seeking antibodies to tiny carbon tubes that heat up when exposed to near-infrared light.
The principal investigator for the 2008-2009 project is Dr. James Willson, director of the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center and associate dean for oncology programs. Under this project, Dr. Willson is leading the development of a federally-certified facility that will enable nanoparticles produced to be used directly in humans, dramatically reducing the time required to turn nanoparticles into therapies and cures. Dr. Jinming Gao, associate professor of pharmacology at the cancer center, and Dr. Walter Hu, assistant professor of electrical engineering at UT Dallas, will be characterizing the sizes and shapes of nanoparticles best suited for medical use.
"This funding is enormously valuable and allows us to catalyze interactions among sister institutions," said Dr. Willson. "This funding will also help provide infrastructure for new diagnostic tools and treatments for cancer and many other diseases."
A member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and the ranking member of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, Sen. Hutchison also continued funding for Gulf War illness research under the direction of Dr. Robert Haley, chief of epidemiology at UT Southwestern and the nation's foremost expert in Gulf War illness. The $15 million secured for 2009 will be the fourth year of a five-year appropriation begun by Sen. Hutchison in 2006 that will ultimately total $75 million. With this funding through the Department of Veteran's Affairs, UT Southwestern, in cooperation with the Dallas VA Medical Center, is serving as the national research center, coordinating and performing groundbreaking research with the hope of eventual diagnosis and treatment for afflicted Gulf War veterans and protection for future veterans.