Cancer Research Group
About the Cancer Research Group
Cancer research is woven through the work of numerous laboratories at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. Investigators strive to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying the genetic and environmental factors that encourage cancer growth, as well as how cancer multiplies and migrates throughout the body. From childhood cancers to breast cancer to brain cancers, including the deadliest of all, glioblastoma, researchers at the institute are developing methods to make cancer cells more vulnerable to existing treatments and innovating completely new treatments to halt cancer and thwart its return.
More than 30 research teams study cancer at Virginia Tech across its Blacksburg and Roanoke campuses, including at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, the College of Science, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Engineering, the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, the Fralin Life Sciences Institute, and the Virginia Tech Center for Drug Discovery. The researchers, supported by more than 30 major grants, form a strategic alliance to develop cross-disciplinary research throughout the university. They develop strategic relationships with federal agencies, private industry, and community partners — all aimed at the development of successful diagnostics and treatments for cancer.
The Animal Cancer Care and Research Center (ACCRC) capitalizes on a strikingly rare opportunity to integrate researchers investigating human and veterinary biomedical interests that seek to advance cancer treatment in pets and people alike. At the center’s new home at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, patients can visit one location for a range of services, including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and advanced diagnostic imaging. The center treats all types of veterinary cancer; in addition, opportunities for dogs and cats to be enrolled in clinical research trials will be offered to pet owners.
- National Cancer Institute-funded research into a deadly form of primary brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme, which has a less than 5 percent five-year survival rate and virtually no effective and reliable treatment. It continues to take lives of young, middle-aged, and older adults. Multiple Virginia Tech teams have identified potential new therapeutic targets, combined pharmacological therapies, and therapeutic delivery systems to treat this cancer.
- The Animal Care and Cancer Research Center open in the summer of 2020 in the new biomedical research building of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute in Roanoke. The facility will bring together veterinary surgical, medical, and radiation oncologists to provide access to clinical trials to provide leading-edge treatment for dogs with cancers, while informing research in humans.
- A focused program on children’s brain cancer research. Children are a major segment of the population in need of the development of new cancer preventions, treatments, and cure. Children are not just little adults — their physiological functions, chemistry, and genetic/epigenetic programs have many differences from adults, requiring more targeted interventions and treatment strategies designed specifically for children.
- Collaborations with Children’s National Hospital at their Research & Innovation Campus, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and Carilion Clinic.
- Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine faculty and Carilion Clinic physicians recognized in pediatric oncology and for innovative therapeutics for pediatric cancers.
Dr. Samy Lamouille and his research team demonstrated that a molecule that can prevent brain cancer from spreading is also useful against breast cancer. The team developed a peptide that targets a set of proteins that help a cancer cell invade new tissue. It competes with the protein, connexin 43, which facilitates the cancer’s spread, and hamper’s tumor’s growth.
Dr. Zhi Sheng and his research team identified a gene and protein product critical to glioblastoma cell survival. They used a molecule to inhibit expression of the protein, stopping it from communicating necessary information, causing cancer cells to start to die off. With further development, researchers could theoretically design a precise treatment to use in conjuction with more traditional treatments and halt the return of one of the deadliest cancers.
A study by Dr. Stephanie Robel revealed that star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes, which typically help protect the brain, are altered by glioma tumors. Astrocytes are hindered in their ability to maintain a balance in the brain between excitation and inhibition, creating conditions that cause seizures.
Dr. Carla Finkielstein’s team revealed that the molecules that protect people from cancer initiation and progression are directly involved in regulating daily circadian rhythm function. Understanding cancer in the context of multicellular systems, including circadian molecules, oncoproteins, and tumor suppressors, provides new insight into tailoring effective therapeutics.