ATLANTA/SAVANNAH — The Georgia Cancer Coalition has awarded two of its eight research grants for 2009 to Mercer faculty. The group awarded $50,000 each to Dr. Martin D’Souza, professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences and co-director of the Center for Drug Delivery Research at the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Atlanta, and Dr. Nagendra Ningaraj, a researcher in the Curtis and Elizabeth Anderson Cancer Institute of Memorial University Medical Center and associate professor with the Mercer School of Medicine in Savannah.
“The fact that both Dr. Ningaraj and Dr. D’Souza have received grants from the Georgia Cancer Coalition speaks volumes to the highly innovative and relevant research agendas that each have in place,” said Dr. D. Scott Davis, senior vice provost for research and dean of graduate studies. “The work of Dr. D’Souza in our Center for Drug Delivery Research has built an international reputation in the area of effective and efficient transport of drugs, while the partnership between Memorial University Medical Center and the Mercer School of Medicine brings the talents of each organization together to further cancer research. Dr. Ningaraj, with appointments in the School of Medicine and Memorial’s Anderson Cancer Institute, continues to develop a top rate research agenda in the field of brain tumor research. It is a pleasure to see that Drs. D’Souza and Ningaraj, two of our leading scholars, have received this recognition by the Georgia Cancer Coalition.”
Fifty-one researchers submitted proposals for the 2009 awards. Reviewers included nationally-recognized scientists and clinicians from across the country. The awards are funded through a state income-tax check-off program, allowing Georgians to elect to donate $1 of their state income tax bill to fund cancer research.
“We are indebted to those citizens who choose to contribute to this valuable effort. The increasing number of researchers who apply for grants indicates that we are making great progress in developing interest in cancer research among the state’s scientific community,” said Bill Todd, president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Cancer Coalition. “Research is essential in the war on cancer.”
Dr. Ningaraj will use his award for research to better understand the genetic traits that cause certain breast cancer cells to proliferate and migrate. By targeting those traits, he hopes to block the spread of the disease.
“This grant award will assist my research work which focuses on accurately determining breast cancer's risk of metastasis to the brain,” Dr. Ningaraj said. “I am studying brain-specific genes (such as KCNMA1) involved in the metastatic process facilitates identification of patients at a higher risk of breast tumor metastasis in the brain. It is of paramount importance to obtain the greatest therapeutic benefit while sparing those with low risk for brain metastasis from the toxic side effects of chemotherapy.”
Dr. Ningaraj performed his medical training in India and earned a P.D.F. in pharmacology, toxicology and medicinal chemistry at the University of Kansas. He joined Memorial in 2006 as an associate member of the Anderson Cancer Institute. He is currently associate professor of pediatric oncology at the School of Medicine. In 2007, he attended Mercer’s Stetson School of Business and Economics to earn his Master of Business Administration degree.
Dr. D’Souza’s award is the first such grant for the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. The award will be used to fund studies on the efficacy of oral vaccinations in vaccinating against breast cancer, by studying two different types of breast cancer cells. Dr. D’Souza has developed a patented coating for antigens based on nanotechnology, protecting those antigens from the stomach acid and allowing them to be delivered in effective doses to the body.
“With the support of this grant I will be able to test a new form of vaccine that could one day help prevent breast cancer,” Dr. D’Souza said. “Because of the delivery form, we are able to include all of the cancer antigens in one dose, rather than having to synthesize large quantities of the few antigens that are currently known to cause cancer and delivering them subcutaneously, which is one of the reasons that there are so few effective cancer vaccines today. So this delivery method may not only provide a cheaper vaccine, but by using all the antigens from tumor cells, it may prove to be a more effective means of inoculating against cancers.”
Dr. D’Souza, came to Mercer in 1986, after obtaining his Ph.D. degree from the University of Pittsburgh. Thereafter, as director of graduate programs, he has supervised more than 20 Ph.D. graduate students. He is also director of the Mercer Clinical Laboratory. Dr. D’Souza’s research laboratory has focused on drug delivery technology that targets drugs to specific sites and facilitates their sustained release.