AACR Grants and Awards

The Lustgarten Foundation: Honoring Two American Icons Lost to Pancreatic Cancer 

Left: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Right: U.S. Representative John Lewis

In 2020, the Lustgarten Foundation and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) established two new career development awards, one each for early-career female and underrepresented pancreatic cancer researchers. The awards, representing a generous commitment from the Lustgarten Foundation of up to $1.8 million, honor the lives and legacies of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Rep. John Lewis, two influential public figures who died of pancreatic cancer in 2020. The Lustgarten Foundation is the world’s largest private funder of pancreatic cancer research.

Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all major cancers. It is currently the third leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. after lung cancer and colon cancer. The Lustgarten Foundation-AACR Career Development Award for Pancreatic Cancer Research, in Honor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg will support the career advancement of an early-career female pancreatic cancer researcher. The Lustgarten Foundation-AACR Career Development Award for Pancreatic Cancer Research, in Honor of John Robert Lewis will support the career advancement of an early-career pancreatic cancer researcher from an underrepresented racial or ethnic minority group. 

Left: Dannielle Engle, PhD
Right: Avery D. Posey, PhD

Dannielle Engle, PhD, of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and Avery D. Posey, PhD, of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania are this year’s award recipients. Engle is an assistant professor in the Regulatory Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute. Her project is titled “The Role of CA19-9 in Pancreatic Cancer Progression and Metastasis.” Posey is an assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania. His project is titled “The Role of Tn Antigen in Pancreatic Cancer: Driver, Suppressor, and Target.”

Each award consists of a three-year, $300,000 grant supporting the Lustgarten Foundation’s mission to cure pancreatic cancer by funding meritorious basic and clinical research and addressing the ongoing need for greater gender and racial diversity in the pancreatic cancer research community.

AACR-PLGA Research Grant Will Boost Understanding of Pediatric Brain Tumor Treatments 

For the second year in a row, the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation (PBTF) has partnered with the AACR for the AACR-PLGA Fund at the PBTF Research Grant. This grant is a joint effort to promote innovative and collaborative research focused on low-grade glioma and astrocytoma, the most common forms of pediatric brain cancer. The grant is intended to help researchers identify effective drug-dosing parameters in clinical trials and explore factors that impact the safe and effective delivery of targeted therapies to a child’s brain tumor.  

The 2020 grantee of the AACR-PLGA Fund at the PBTF Research Grant is Karisa C. Schreck, MD, PhD, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Schreck will receive $180,000 over two years to study the functional engagement and effect of RAF-targeted therapies in glioma.  

Karisa C. Schreck, MD, PhD

Amy Weinstein, national director of Research Investments and Advocacy at the PBTF, said effective therapies to arrest development of PLGA brain tumors are lacking. “Recently, there have been significant discoveries regarding the common driver for PLGA,” she said. “Unfortunately, there is little known about other important factors which impact the effectiveness of targeted therapies being administered to PLGA patients. 

“The purpose of this project is to gain a more accurate understanding of how targeted drug therapies in children are penetrating the blood-brain barrier and attacking the target, with the hope that this information will increase our understanding, and researchers will have the ability to more effectively decide on drug dosing in future clinical trial designs,” Weinstein said.

“The partnership between the PBTF and the AACR has the potential to accelerate pediatric brain tumor research by combining the focused interest and expertise of the PBTF with the broad-reaching network of the AACR,” said Dr. Schreck. “Receiving this grant means that we can answer important questions about how RAF-targeted therapy reaches brain tumors and what we can do to improve efficacy.”

The Mark Foundation: Five Grants to Support the “Science of the Patient” 

The AACR has partnered with the Mark Foundation for Cancer Research to create the AACR-The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research Science of the Patient (SOP) Grants. Five grants have been awarded in support of innovative research on the influence of patient biology on the beginning, development, treatment, and survivorship of cancer. 

“We are excited to partner with The Mark Foundation in this new area of research that will provide important insights into how the human body interacts with a tumor and how this interaction can be disrupted to mitigate disease,” said Mitch Stoller, chief philanthropic officer and vice president of development at the AACR. “This grant mechanism emphasizes our joint commitment toward elucidating the complexities of cancer and accelerating the development of effective therapeutics for patients.” 

This is the second time the AACR and the Mark Foundation have worked together. In 2018, the Mark Foundation sponsored the AACR-The Mark Foundation NextGen Grant for Transformative Cancer Research to support the work of Birgit Knoechel, MD, PhD. 

“In cancer research, scientists typically drill down to the molecular and cellular levels for insights, but to truly transform our knowledge of the disease, it’s important to step back and look at the whole patient,” said Michele Cleary, PhD, chief executive officer of The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research. “The investigators supported through our exciting partnership with the AACR are addressing diverse questions that probe how patient biology and physiology influence the course of disease. The insights gained from these efforts will lead to better ways not only to attack tumors, but also to mitigate some of the harmful effects cancer has on a patient’s well-being.”

Five grant winners were announced in February 2021. They are: 

“Impact of liver biology on cancer immunity”
Gregory L. Beatty, MD, PhD,
University of Pennsylvania 
“Targeting insulin to improve endometrial cancer”
Marcus D. Goncalves, MD, PhD,
Weill Cornell Medicine 
“Autonomic dysfunction in cancer cachexia”
Daniel L. Marks, MD, PhD,
Oregon Health & Science University 
“Biological mechanism and risk factor of head and neck cancer in Blacks”
Fatemeh Momen-Heravi, PhD,
Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia University 
“Liver PAH defect provokes immune resistance”
Liuqing Yang, PhD,
University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Each grant will provide $750,000 over three years to support projects that explore novel concepts with the potential to have transformative impacts on future clinical practice. “I am grateful to the AACR and Mark Foundation for Cancer Research for the generous support offered by this award,” said Dr. Marks. “We believe that the work supported by this grant will improve the lives of patients with cancer and point the way to new treatments for cachexia in cancer patients.”

AACR-Genentech Cancer Disparities Research Fellowships Focus on Cancer Disparities Due to Race

The AACR and Genentech are in the third year of collaborating on the AACR-Genentech Cancer Disparities Research Fellowships. These grants encourage and support postdoctoral or clinical research fellows to conduct cancer disparities research and to establish a successful career path in this field.  

Left: Tyler A. Allen, PhD
Right: Rania Bassiouni, PhD

The 2020 grantees are Tyler A. Allen, PhD, a postdoctoral associate at the Duke Cancer Center and Rania Bassiouni, PhD, a postdoctoral scholar research associate at the University of Southern California. Both Dr. Allen and Dr. Bassiouni are working on different projects to elucidate the molecular basis for disparities in clinical outcomes in African Americans who have either prostate cancer or triple-negative breast cancer.  

African American men have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer and are more likely to die from the disease compared to other ethnic groups. Dr. Allen hypothesizes that this is due in part to race-related alternative RNA-splicing (ARS) that impacts the rate of metastasis. He will be analyzing tissues from equal numbers of patients of African and European ancestry to determine ancestry-related ARS differences between primary and metastatic tissue.   

“The AACR-Genentech Cancer Disparities Research Fellowship supports a study with significant impact on not only health disparities, but also the molecular understanding of the metastasis process,” Dr. Allen said. “I am thankful for the award and look forward to helping advance the field with the support of the AACR and Genentech.” 

Triple-negative breast cancer disproportionately affects African American women, as evidenced by their rates of incidence and mortality, which are higher than those recorded by white women. Dr. Bassiouni will investigate the biological factors that contribute to this disparity.  

“I am greatly honored to be awarded the 2020 AACR-Genentech Cancer Disparities Research Fellowship,” Dr. Bassiouni said. “With this support, I aim to advance our understanding of cancer health disparities and to ultimately benefit patients disproportionately burdened by disease.”