Research teams win Dunn Awards to fight cancer

Rice bioengineers team with MD Anderson researchers to reach pancreatic tumors, ease chemotherapy side effects

Researchers at Rice University will team with counterparts at MD Anderson to improve cancer therapy with the support of seed funding from the John S. Dunn Foundation.

Two Rice University researchers will team with counterparts at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center to improve cancer therapy with the support of seed funding from the John S. Dunn Foundation.

The organization’s 2022 Collaborative Research Awards are intended to kick-start projects by Rice bioengineers Kevin McHugh and George Lu and their partners. The teams are expected to progress enough on their projects to apply for further funding.

George Lu
George Lu
Kevin McHugh
Kevin McHugh

Since 2008, the annual awards have supported new collaborations among researchers at two or more institutions that belong to the Gulf Coast Consortia (GCC), which administers the program.

McHugh, an assistant professor of bioengineering and a CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research, will work with Robert Jenq, an associate professor of genomic medicine at MD Anderson, to improve the delivery of microbiome-modulating metabolites to the lower intestine, where they can keep opportunistic “bad” bacteria in check to prevent infections associated with cancer treatment.

The McHugh lab has developed microscopic particles with specialized coatings able to deliver medications to the lower digestive tract, while Jenq’s lab has found a metabolite that suppresses mucus-eating by bacteria, a cause of neutropenic fever.

Lu, also an assistant professor of bioengineering and a CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research, will collaborate with Florencia McAllister, an associate professor of clinical cancer prevention at MD Anderson, to develop therapies that employ genetically engineered bacteria to target pancreatic tumors and deliver proteins that prompt the immune system to fight the cancer.

Live bacteria have been administered to patients in clinical trials. They are able to target tumor tissues and signal our immune systems to attack these tissues. This study will engineer these bacteria to have new modalities to specifically target pancreatic cancer, and the researchers expect the therapy will be safe, long-lasting and have a tunable potency.

A third Dunn award will go to Shelly Buffington, an assistant professor of neuroscience, cell biology and anatomy at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB), and Cheryl Walker, director of the Center for Precision Environmental Health and a professor of molecular and cell biology at Baylor College of Medicine. Their project will pursue maternal high-fat, diet-induced reprogramming of the offspring brain and behavior.

The Dunn Foundation is a longtime supporter of collaborative research through the GCC, which builds interdisciplinary research teams and training programs in the biomedical sciences that involve the computational, chemical, mathematical and physical sciences. GCC member institutions include Rice, Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Houston, the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, UTMB, the Texas A&M University Institute of Biosciences and Technology, MD Anderson and the Houston Methodist Research Institute.

Images for download

George Lu

CAPTION: George Lu. (Credit: Rice University)

Kevin McHugh

CAPTION: Kevin McHugh. (Credit: Rice University)

Related materials

Related materials:

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