Duncan NRI investigators receive more than $2.2 million in grants from CPRIT


Two research teams at the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute (Duncan NRI) at Texas Children’s Hospital have received more than $2.2 million in grant awards from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) to support innovative cancer research, prevention, and survivorship care. The Duncan NRI principal investigators, Drs. Zhandong Liu and Akash Patel, were among eight Baylor College of Medicine faculty funded by CPRIT this year. 

“We are thrilled that Drs. Liu and Patel, along with their multidisciplinary teams of exceptional scientists and physicians, were chosen to receive these prestigious awards. They are all deeply committed to advance cancer research and improve therapies,” Dr. Huda Zoghbi, distinguished service professor at Baylor College of Medicine, founding director of the Duncan NRI, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, said. “These grants will provide crucial support as they tackle some of the most challenging problems in cancer biology.”

Developing computational tools to study cancer metastasis

The first team, led by Dr. Liu, an associate professor of Pediatrics-Neurology at Baylor College of Medicine, and Chief Computational Scientist and The Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Endowed Chair at Texas Children’s Hospital, received more than $1.2 million for a project entitled “Computational methods for CRISPR-based lineage tracing systems.” 

The goal of this project is to develop new computational tools that will allow researchers to leverage the new generation of CRISPR-based lineage tracing techniques to dissect the molecular mechanisms underlying cancer metastasis – the process by which cancer cells spread from the site of the primary tumor to distant organs – and is the most common reason for complications and death in cancer patients.

“We are grateful to have been selected to receive one of just three computational biology grant awards funded by CPRIT this year,” Dr. Liu said. “This award will significantly advance our efforts to develop innovative computational tools and improve existing methods to study metastatic cell lineages. Insights gained from this study will be instrumental in identifying potential strategies to slow the spread of these aggressive tumors.”

Identifying the drivers of cell proliferation in aggressive meningiomas

The second team, led by Dr. Patel, an associate professor in Neurosurgery and Otolaryngology, program director for the Brain Tumor and Neurosurgery Residency programs at Baylor College of Medicine, and member of the Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center, was awarded a $1.04 million CPRIT grant for their project entitled, “Identifying the biological determinants of aggressive meningioma.” Drs. Tiemo Klisch and Akdes Harmanci are co-investigators on this grant. 

Meningiomas are the most common primary brain tumors and are more common in women, African Americans, and the elderly. These tumors can be classified into three distinct groups based on their molecular features. In patients with aggressive meningiomas, despite surgery and radiation treatment, the tumor often returns. The goal of Dr. Patel’s project is to dissect the molecular mechanisms underlying excess cell proliferation and tumor recurrence in these patients.

“Our ultimate goal is to find new therapeutic strategies for treatment-resistant meningioma patients who currently have little hope and we thank CPRIT for supporting us in this effort,” Dr. Patel said. “Our team is fortunate to have extensive access to patient tumor samples that we plan to leverage using our combined multi-disciplinary expertise in epigenetics, genomics, computational biology, molecular genetics, and cancer biology. I am grateful for my team’s dedication as well as the supportive and collaborative environment of the Duncan NRI which makes it possible for us to undertake such ambitious endeavors.”