DOH Presents Nearly $6.6M Health Research Grant to PSU

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Michael Wolf yesterday presented a nearly $6.6 million grant to the Pennsylvania State University that will help fund projects ranging from cancer and hepatitis B research to smoking cessation.

The Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement (CURE) Program funds grants for health research with the purpose of discovering new scientific knowledge to help improve the health of all Pennsylvanians.

These grants, allocated in the 2012-13 fiscal year, focus on specific research priorities established and reviewed by the Department of Health in conjunction with the Health Research Advisory Committee, a panel made up of universities and research institutes.

“The Department of Health is honored to provide grants to some of Pennsylvania’s finest universities to continue to enhance our state’s role as an internationally recognized leader in health research,” said Wolf. “These funds are important for disease prevention and improving public health.”

Wolf presented the $6,589,749 award today to Penn State’s President Rodney Erickson and Dr. Harold L. Paz, the CEO of Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Health System. Dr. Paz also serves as Penn State’s senior vice president for health affairs and is the dean of the Penn State College of Medicine.

“Since 2001, tobacco funds have provided seed funding that has helped faculty members at Pennsylvania’s research institutions, including Penn State, win an estimated $2.4 billion in additional funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies,” Erickson said. “We’re proud to partner with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on this initiative to advance science, knowledge and the quality of life of Pennsylvania citizens.”

By law, the grants must focus on clinical, health services, and/or biomedical research, with a goal of improving health status and access.

“We are grateful to the commonwealth of Pennsylvania for its continued support of medical research through the CURE program,” Paz said. “These funds make a huge difference not just to our researchers, but above all, to the patients and families who look to academic health centers like ours for new discoveries and new hope.”

This year, there are 28 CURE grant recipients receiving awards totaling $41.9 million.

Since the grant program’s inception, Penn State University has received approximately $109 million in CURE funding, part of the nearly $800 million in total CURE awards.

Find more information about the CURE program on the DOH’s web site at


Below are brief descriptions of the projects that will be supported through the grant to Penn State:

  • Enhancing Smokers’ Control over Brain Reward Circuitry Using fMRI Neurofeedback:  Non-drug rewards (e.g., money) are often used to enhance the motivation of individuals trying to quit smoking cigarettes.  Converging evidence indicates that non-drug rewards may be least effective in the very situations that they are needed most – i.e., when cigarettes are available and cravings are high. This research project has the potential to significantly improve incentive-based strategies for treating cigarette addiction.
  • Targeting Pancreatic Cancer with Aptamers to the CCK-B Receptor:   The purpose of this research project is to select and develop aptamers which will be useful for specifically targeting pancreatic cancer.
  • Perioperative Circulating Tumor Cell Detection in Stage IV Colorectal Cancer:  The results of this project could be fundamentally important to understanding cancer spread, and further personalize therapy in patients undergoing cancer-related surgery.
  • Analysis of the Role of YAP1 in the Self Renewal of Leukemia Stem Cells:  A greater understanding of the mechanisms that regulate the self-renewal of leukemia stem cells will identify new targets for therapeutic intervention. These studies are initial basic studies using mouse models of leukemia that, if successful, could be translated into the clinic.
  • Reprogramming Hepatitis B (HBV)-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) from Stem Cells for Cell-based Therapies:  This research will provide new insight and strategies for generating highly reactive HBV-specific T cells from pluripotent stem cells, and in doing so, drive forward use of therapeutic T cells for the treatment of HBV infections and HBV-related hepatocellular carcinoma.
  • Investigating the Mechanisms of Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma (ESCC) Invasion:  ESCC is the most prevalent form of esophageal cancer throughout the world and carries a dire prognosis, primarily due to presentation at an advanced stage and the invasiveness of the disease. This project proposes to define the mechanisms by which the gene, p120ctn, and the Epidermal growth factor receptor gene cooperate to synergistically influence esophageal squamous cell carcinoma invasion.
  • Immunological and Anti-tumor Mechanisms of LipC6 Treatment in a Murine Model of Hepatocellular Carcinoma (HCC):  The results of this project will be used to further apply for a National Institutes of Health grant. The knowledge gained will lay the foundation for translational approaches in human HCC that combine LipC6 with new or existing immunotherapies.
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