$25,000 in seed funding awarded for “Spatialomics and Precision Medicine Pipeline” at UVM Cancer Center Scientific Retreat

November 19, 2022 by Kate Strotmeyer

Once a year, the UVM Cancer Center hosts an annual scientific retreat to bring together members from across disciplines to learn about key initiatives. But, this year there was a twist. 

Following Cancer Center Director, Randall Holcombe, MD, MBA’s briefing about the National Cancer Institute’s research program guidelines and research talks by Steve Lidofsky, MD and Yvonne Janssen-Heininger, PhD outlining a connection between fibrosis and carcinogenesis, the seventy-five members in attendance were assigned to five cross-disciplinary teams. The topics for the teams aligned with proposed Cancer Center initiatives to address research relevant to the populations of Vermont and northern New York and were: 

  1. Cancer Immunology 
  2. Rural Health, Cancer Prevention and Community Engagement 
  3. Nutrition, Obesity, Environment and Cancer 
  4. Shared Resources 
  5. Redox, DNA Damage, Epigenetics and Drug Development 

Each group had 30 minutes to develop an idea. At the end of 30 minutes, groups pitched concrete, actionable research plans to their peers. The prize? $25,000 in seed funding. 

Members voted and narrowed it down to two: (1) a plan for developing a precision medicine pipeline that would enable members to define the genetic markers that match the sensitivity of tumor organoids to repurposed, non-cancer specific, FDA-approved drugs and (2) adding spatial multiomics to the suite of shared resources. If you’re new to spatialomics, this science enables a researcher to take a tissue sample and look at the expression of molecules in a three-dimensional environment. 

Fittingly, it was a question that moved the process forward. Fran Carr, PhD, raised her hand and asked simply, “Isn’t there a connection here?” Heads nodded, consensus formed, and a final vote confirmed that spatialomics had its first customer – the development of a precision medicine pipeline. Alan Howe, PhD and Douglas Taatjes, PhD will be co-leading next steps toward implementation. 

In addition to the seed funding competition, the retreat highlighted Alissa Thomas, MD and Kara Landry, MD, two clinical investigator awardees with research projects geared towards improving cancer care delivery; two new Cancer Center members, Elise Tarbi, PhD and Steve Roberts, PhD who introduced their research; and a closing keynote, Targeting Metabolic Dysfunction to Improve Cancer Outcomes, by Neil Iyanger, MD from Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center.  It was a good way to end - follow up conversations revealed potential for future collaboration as members seek to drive discovery and improve treatment options for patients with cancer.

For more information about the UVM Cancer Center, visit: www.vermontcancer.org