The University of Kentucky was recently awarded a prestigious Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) grant to study the metabolism of cancer from the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health. The $11.2 million grant will fund UK’s Center for Cancer and Metabolism over the next five years.
Kentucky has disproportionately high incidences of both cancer and metabolic disorders and leads the nation in cancer deaths and is in the top 10 for highest obesity rates in the country. While scientists have long known of a direct link between obesity and cancer, the need for further research into this field is a necessity for Kentuckians.
UK's Center for Cancer and Metabolism (CCM) capitalizes on highly specialized institutional strengths in cancer and advanced metabolomics tools to focus on the underlying mechanisms that link dysfunctional metabolism to cancer. Recent studies have shown that the metabolic powerhouse of cells – the mitochondria -– can influence how aggressive a cancer becomes.
UK has internationally renowned experts in the field of cancer and metabolism, and new state-of-the-art technology has improved the ability to understand how metabolism impacts cancer.
The CCM will bring together highly complementary disciplinary strengths at UK in cancer, metabolism and data sciences, coupled with sophisticated metabolomics tools and advanced cancer imaging capabilities, to strengthen the university’s cancer research enterprise by providing a thematically focused multidisciplinary infrastructure dedicated to defining the role of metabolism in the development and treatment of cancer.
COBRE grants also use this platform to develop promising early-stage investigators with enhanced skill sets in exciting new areas of cancer research and to enhance their success in competing for NIH grant support. The grant promotes collaborative, interactive efforts among researchers with complementary backgrounds, skills and expertise.
Dr. Travis Thomas, Associate Professor, Clinical Nutrition, is one of four junior investigators, mentored by teams of clinicians and scientists from a variety of disciplines, departments and colleges at UK, who will lead major projects investigating an aspect of cancer metabolism
His project, “The contribution of Vitamin D to Muscle Metabolic Function in Cancer Cachexia,” received $1.68 million in funding, with Dr. Daret St Clair as Principal Investigator.
Thomas’ project will receive $1.68 million over the next five years to use a combination of advanced metabolic analytical approaches with complementary model systems in cell culture and human subjects to understand the biochemical and physiological mechanisms underlying cancer cachexia in relation to the role of vitamin D in conjunction with resistance exercise.
The impact of this project, the first nutrition and exercise study designed as an inexpensive intervention, is to understand the effect of vitamin D on the metabolic and anabolic dynamics, which underpin dysfunction in cachectic muscle. If vitamin D improves muscle metabolic function and/or anabolic sensitivity, these adaptations will ultimately improve cancer therapy by combating cancer cachexia. Further, this project has the potential to identify the minimum effective intervention dose for optimizing metabolic health leading to more practical and individualized lifestyle prescriptions to reduce health care costs.