WUSTL

Winners of Bear Cub grants announced

By Caroline Arbanas
Robert Boston
With Bear Cub funding, William G. Hawkins, MD, is developing a new treatment for pancreatic cancer.

Scientists developing new drugs, diagnostic tests or other technologies often struggle to secure funding to demonstrate the commercial feasibility of their research. Federal dollars typically don’t cover such proof-of-concept studies.

But the university’s Bear Cub grants help fill the gap, providing much-needed support to investigators to move their discoveries beyond the laboratory and into the marketplace.

The grants, awarded annually through the university’s Office of Technology Management, aid scientists who aim to commercialize their research.

This spring, the technology management office awarded $235,000 in Bear Cub grants to four research teams among nearly 30 that applied.

“The interest by faculty and students in commercializing their technologies has grown substantially in recent years,” said Evan Kharasch, MD, PhD, Washington University’s vice chancellor for research. “This is a testament to the innovative nature of their research and a genuine interest in solving real-world problems. Through the Bear Cub program and other initiatives, we want to provide multiple opportunities for our scientists to commercialize their discoveries.”

This year’s winners are:

Delphine L. Chen, MD, assistant professor of radiology,who is developing a noninvasive method to measure the activity of an enzyme called PARP in cancers. Some deadly breast and ovarian tumors rely on PARP for survival, and other cancer types also are thought to depend on the enzyme. Chen’s research could help doctors identify which patients are likely to respond to a new class of promising cancer drugs called PARP inhibitors. Her technology measures PARP activity in tumors using PET imaging without requiring a biopsy. Some tumors also increase PARP production after treatment with chemotherapy, leading to treatment resistance. The same technology also could be used to more accurately determine why chemotherapy drugs are no longer effective.

Pancreatic cancer is notoriously difficult to treat, with only 6 percent of patients surviving five years after their diagnosis. William G. Hawkins, MD, associate professor of surgery, has synthesized a therapeutic that combines a small-molecule drug that targets pancreatic cancer cells with an enhanced delivery mechanism to ensure that sufficient quantities reach the tumor. In animal models, even a short course of the therapeutic doubled survival. The drug also makes cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy drugs, suggesting it could be used in combination with existing drugs.

Graduate student Yi-Chieh “EJ” Perng and Deborah J. Lenschow, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine, have identified a new class of drugs that potentially could treat cytomegalovirus, a type of herpes virus that infects most U.S. adults at some point in their lives. In healthy people, the virus rarely causes symptoms. But it can hide in the body and re-emerge years later, causing significant illness in patients with compromised immune systems, such as those who have had organ or bone marrow transplants. Only a limited number of drugs are available to treat the virus, and they can be highly toxic and lead to treatment resistance if used repeatedly. In preliminary studies, the researchers have shown that a class of drugs in clinical trials for other diseases also is effective against cytomegalovirus and is less likely than current drugs to cause toxic side effects or treatment resistance.

Srikanth Singamaneni, PhD, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, is developing a smartphone-based rapid diagnostic test to detect acute kidney injury. Each year, an estimated 1.5 million critically ill patients in hospital intensive-care units develop a sudden loss of kidney function, prolonging their stays and adding billions to health-care costs. But diagnostic tests typically take several days to provide results, which delays treatment. Singamaneni's innovative test detects a urine biomarker of acute kidney injury using a spectrometer that can be attached to a smartphone. The test is relatively inexpensive and produces results in about 30 minutes, which also makes it practical to use in settings with limited access to sophisticated technologies.

For more information about the Bear Cub program, follow this link, or contact Jon Kratochvil at kratochj@wustl.edu.

MEDIA CONTACTS
Caroline Arbanas
Executive Director, Research Communications
(314) 286-0109
arbanasc@wustl.edu