Cancer Center at Illinois announces 2022 research grants

Top, from left to right: Martin Burke, Christopher Gaulke, and Catherine Murphy. Middle, from left to right: Joaquín Rodríguez López, Emad Tajkhorshid, and Kai Zhang. Bottom, from left to right: Zeynep Madak Erdogan, Angad Mehta, and Hua Wang.

The Cancer Center at Illinois announced the selection of nine interdisciplinary cancer research projects designed by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign faculty to be funded by Cancer Center at Illinois (CCIL) developmental grant awards. Five of the projects include Illinois chemistry faculty members — Martin Burke, Angad Mehta, Catherine Murphy, Joaquín Rodríguez-López, and Emad Tajkhorshid, faculty affiliate in chemistry.

CCIL grants provide support to Illinois scientists to drive cancer research collaborations on campus and encourage engineering, technology, and science-based researchers to engage with clinical collaborators.

“Cancer Center at Illinois Seed, Planning, Bridge, and other grant awards support novel collaborations that lead to transformative advances in cancer research. Over the past five years, these CCIL funding opportunities have produced new cancer focused research grants, earned significant external funding, and launched translational clinical partnerships that will change the cancer care landscape for years to come,” said Rohit Bhargava, CCIL Director.

Seed Grant Awards

Six of the cancer research projects received CCIL Seed Grant awards – designed to enhance team-based science to pursue innovative discovery and translational directions that lead to major external funding opportunities. The Seed Grant recipients in the Department of Chemistry include:

Project Title: A Molecular Lego Kit for Kinase Inhibitors
Principal Investigator: Martin Burke, Professor, Chemistry
Research Team: Emad Tajkhorshid, Professor, Biochemistry and faculty affiliate in Chemistry

Project Title: Engineering Mechanical and Chemical Gradients to Control Cancer Cell Metastasis
Principal Investigator: Catherine Murphy, Professor, Chemistry
Research Team: Taher Saif, Professor, Mechanical Sciences and Engineering

Project Title: Versatile Redox Detection of a-Glycosylated Proteins in Blood, A Potential Universal Biomarker for Robust Cancer Detection
Principal Investigator: Joaquín Rodríguez López, Associate Professor, Chemistry
Research Team: Brian Cunningham, Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering; Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, Associate Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition

Project Title: Molecular Dynamics Modeling of Target Recycling Amplification for Ultrasensitive Detection of RNA-based Cancer Biomarkers
Principal Investigator: Emad Tajkhorshid, Professor, Biochemistry and faculty affiliate in Chemistry
Research Team: Brian Cunningham, Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Planning and Bridge Awards

Three of the cancer research projects received CCIL Planning and Bridge Awards, including a project by chemistry professor Angad Mehta. CCIL Planning Grants are one-time awards to individuals or teams to develop research concepts, take advantage of a unique research opportunity, stimulate a high-priority research area, or initiate a potentially impactful, but risky project. CCIL Bridge grants aid cancer-focused research grant proposals at the R01 or multi-project level in overcoming funding barriers.

Project Title: Using Enzyme/Small-molecule Pairs to Engineer Selectively in Targeting Cancer
Principal Investigator: Angad Mehta, Assistant Professor, Chemistry
Research Team: Wenyan Mei, Assistant Professor, Comparative Biosciences

“This cohort of CCIL grant recipients is truly representative of the University’s leadership in engineering, technology, and basic sciences. These multidisciplinary teams are leading innovative discoveries in high-priority research areas with the long-term goal of providing cancer solutions with improved quality and accessibility, lower costs, and personalized to meet the individual needs of cancer patients,” said Paul Hergenrother, CCIL Deputy Director.


Projects outside the Department of Chemistry that were selected for CCIL funding include:

Project Title: Targeting the Bidirectional Crosstalk Between Gut Microbial Metabolism and Bile Acids to Alleviate Intestinal and Liver Tumorigenesis
Principal Investigator: Christopher Gaulke, Assistant Professor, Pathobiology
Research Team: Sayeepriyadarshini Anakk, Associate Professor, Molecular & Integrative Physiology; Collin Kieffer, Assistant Professor, Microbiology; Bo Wang, Assistant Professor, Comparative Biosciences

Project Title: Optogenetic Modulation of the Tumor Microenvironment to Improve Cancer Immunotherapy
Principal Investigator: Kai Zhang, Associate Professor, Biochemistry
Research Team: Erik Nelson, Associate Professor, Molecular and Integrative Physiology

Project Title: Delineating and Targeting Metabolic Adaptations in the Breast Cancer-Metastatic Niche Nexus to Improve Therapy Efficacy
Principal Investigator: Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, Associate Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition

Project Title: Metabolic Tagging of Tumor Exosomes for Developing Enhanced Exosome Vaccines
Principal Investigator: Hua Wang, Assistant Professor, Materials Science and Engineering
Research Team: Erik Nelson, Associate Professor, Molecular and Integrative Physiology

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