A Texas A&M University chemist-to-be is among the scientists and companies selected by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) to receive a total of 58 research grants to advance the fight against cancer.
Dr. Jonathan Sczepanski is one of three recently announced statewide recipients of a $2 million First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Member recruitment grant — one-time awards intended to help bring cancer scientists and emerging researchers to academic institutions across Texas. A rising star at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., Sczepanski is set to join the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry in August as an assistant professor and the university’s second CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research, joining the Texas A&M Health Science Center’s Yun (Nancy) Huang, who became the first in May 2014.
Sczepanski is one of 55 First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members — one of four classifications designated as CPRIT Scholars — who have relocated to Texas institutions as a result of the program since it began in 2009. He plans to use his grant to develop a research program at the interface of cancer research and chemical biology.
“Dr. Sczepanski’s research program will be highly complementary of ongoing efforts at Texas A&M, thereby catalyzing new campus-wide strengths in the chemical biology of cancer,” said Dr. François P. Gabbaï, professor and head of Texas A&M Chemistry and holder of the Arthur E. Martell Endowed Chair in Chemistry.
Sczepanski earned his doctorate in chemistry from Johns Hopkins University under the guidance of Professor Marc M. Greenberg, spearheading several projects aimed at studying the reactivity of specific DNA lesions within both naked DNA and nucleosome core particles. He completed a National Institutes of Health Kirschstein postdoctoral fellowship prior to arriving at Scripps and joining Professor Gerald F. Joyce’s research group, where he has investigated in vitro evolution as a means to prepare functional L-RNAs (the enantiomer of natural D-RNA), including L-RNA enzymes (ribozymes) and aptamers.
Most recently, Sczepanski developed a new class of L-RNA aptamers, known as “aptamiRs,” that inhibit microRNA maturation in vitro. After arriving at Texas A&M, he will pursue the use of aptamiR technology as a general tool for manipulating microRNAs in vivo, and, ultimately, as a new class of L-RNA-based cancer therapeutics. Sczepanski’s laboratory will combine expertise in nucleic acids chemistry and molecular biology to prepare precisely damaged chromatin fibers in vitro, which will allow him to study the processes of DNA repair and chromatin dynamics in unprecedented detail.
Two additional Texas A&M faculty members received individual investigator research awards as part of CPRIT’s latest funding cycle. Pingwei Li in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics was awarded a $900,000 grant to further his research on tumor suppression through the cGAMP/STRING pathway, while Victor Ugaz with the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station also earned a $1,135,450 award to study high-throughput screening and detection of circulating tumor cells.
In addition, a College Station-based company, Medicenna Therapeutics, Inc., was recognized with one of four product development research grants — awards designed to support oncology-focused research and development conducted by Texas-based companies. Medicenna Therapeutics will receive roughly $14.1 million to help fund a project to develop treatments for brain cancers that affect both adults and children, including glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most common form of adult brain cancer that results in 11,000 new cases each year in the U.S.
Most recently in the College of Science, physicist Peter McIntyre and biologist Gil Rosenthal earned two of Texas A&M’s three individual investigator research grants awarded as part of CPRIT’s August 20 funding cycle. Each received $200,000 awards to study new screening methods for breast cancer and melanoma, respectively.
To be eligible to receive CPRIT funds, applicants must be Texas-based entities, including public or private institutions of higher education, academic health institutions, universities, government organizations, non-governmental organizations, other public or private companies, or individuals residing in Texas.
Find additional information about CPRIT.
Learn more about Texas A&M Chemistry.
Click here to read a related feature story in the Bryan-College Station Eagle.
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About Research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world’s leading research institutions, Texas A&M is at the forefront in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represented annual expenditures of more than $820 million in FY 2013, ranking Texas A&M in the top 20 of the National Science Foundation’s most recent survey of research and development expenditures among U.S. colleges and universities. Recently reported FY 2014 research expenditures exceed $854 million. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental, and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world. To learn more, visit http://research.tamu.edu.
About the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas: Beginning operations in 2009, CPRIT has to date awarded more than $1 billion in grants to Texas researchers, institutions, non-profits and private enterprises. CPRIT provides funding through its scientific- and product-development-related research and prevention programs. Programs made possible with CPRIT funding have reached every corner of the state, brought more than 80 distinguished researchers to Texas, advanced scientific and clinical knowledge, and provided more than 1.9 million life-saving education, training, prevention and early detection services to Texans. Learn more at http://www.cprit.state.tx.us.
See how the CPRIT initiative is helping Texas A&M researchers and other scientists across the state to build both the teams and infrastructure necessary to move projects from the benchtop to industry in this YouTube video, courtesy of the Texas A&M Division of Research: