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10.05.09 Cancer-research gift is latest from Sackler families to benefit sciences at Tufts

No drugs exist today to stop cancer from spreading. Professor Daniel Jay hopes his research will speed their discovery.

"Metastasis is the truly devastating aspect of cancer," said the professor of physiology at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences. "The vast majority of cancer victims die not from the primary tumor but because of metastasis to secondary sites, ultimately succumbing to a war of attrition.

"Limiting metastasis makes cancer a treatable disease," he said.

Dr. Jay is one of more than 30 members of the Sackler faculty whose cancer research potentially will benefit from the newly created Sackler Families Fund for Collaborative Cancer Biology Research.

La Fondation Raymond et Beverly Sackler/The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation, La Fondation Sackler/The Sackler Foundation, created by Dr. Mortimer D. Sackler, and The Arthur M. Sackler Foundation have joined to establish the Sackler Families Fund for Collaborative Cancer Biology Research at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences. This gift demonstrates the continued support and commitment to Tufts from the three Sackler families.

"The researchers at Tufts are unified in their expression of gratitude to the three Sackler families for providing this support, which can serve as a lifeline to allow completion of cutting-edge studies," said Philip Hinds, professor of radiation oncology, associate director of the Molecular Oncology Research Institute, and deputy director of the Tufts Medical Center Cancer Center.

The cancer-research gift is the latest from the Sackler families to benefit the sciences at Tufts. The Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences originally was established in 1980 at the School of Medicine through the generosity of Drs. Arthur, Mortimer, and Raymond Sackler.

The Sackler Families Fund for Collaborative Cancer Biology Research at the Sackler School will generate approximately $100,000 a year to support the translation of scientific discovery toward a cure or effective treatment of cancer.

A call for collaborative research proposals will be put out each year to Tufts faculty and students, and the awardódrawing on the new fundsówill be made by the dean of the Sackler School in consultation with the dean of the School of Medicine and a peer-review panel of distinguished faculty members from the Sackler School.

"Cancer remains one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and cancer research is one of the focal themes of the Medical School and Tufts Medical Center," said Jamshed Bharucha, Tufts' chief academic officer as university provost and senior vice president. "This generous gift supports the strategy of developing translational research, which marries basic biological research with attempts to find treatments for disease, thus translating science into treatment."

In a joint statement expressing their gratitude for the gift, Michael Rosenberg, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine, and Naomi Rosenberg, Ph.D., dean of the Sackler School, said:

"The Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences has no better friends than the three Sackler families that established the school 30 years ago. Through their steadfast commitment, we are fulfilling our mission of providing superb graduate education for future leaders in research, teaching, and biotechnology. The Sackler School's goal is to foster and develop the next generation of biomedical researchers who will make discoveries that translate into novel therapies for human disease.

"In a time of economic challenge, this gift has special meaning, providing immediate funds for critical research in an era of declining funding from the National Institutes of Health," the deans said. "We pledge to direct the funds to support the most promising scientists and ideas in cancer biology at the Sackler School."

Professor Jay said his research involves identifying new proteins on cancer cells that act in cancer invasion and spread. "We are employing a unique technology using light to destroy specific proteins expressed on cancer cells, to see if this affects the cell's ability to invade. Using this approach we've identified three new proteins and are beginning to test them for their role in breast cancer metastasis and brain tumor spread."

Another whose work potentially may benefit is Professor Hinds, who said his research focuses on "the fundamental mechanisms that allow cancer cells to escape the signals that normally act to stop cells from dividing and tissues from growing." The hope is to specifically identify proteins involved in proliferation of cancer stem cells so methods can be identified to interrupt their function.

"We are particularly excited at the prospect of finally understanding the identity and source of the cells that produce tumors, and that persist after conventional chemotherapy," Hinds said.

"The fundamental concepts we are studying and the hypotheses generated also apply to a variety of other diseases of excess or impaired tissue formation, so have implications for disease that extend beyond cancer. We now have increased confidence that our work will have practical as well as fundamental impact in the near future.

"Tufts has been an outstanding place to perform this research in part due to the physical resources that are readily available, but more so because of the highly collaborative atmosphere," Dr. Hinds said. "Tufts people at all levels are uniformly and genuinely excited about working together to solve problems ranging from an understanding of the molecular basis of disease to the production of preclinical and clinical models useful for identifying and testing therapeutics."