VHLA’s competitive research grant program is helping to elucidate the pathways involved in tumorigenesis including how to overcome the body signaling and response to what it perceives as a hypoxic (low oxygen) environment.
Advancing our scientific understanding of VHL disease and related cancers is one of the top priorities for VHLA. To that end, VHLA implements a research grant program that attracts some of the top names in the VHL research community. The goal of the grant program is to fund projects that will:
Increase understanding of how VHL affects the cell.
Permit the creation of model systems that better mimic the organ involvement of VHL.
Develop improved screening and treatment approaches for people living with VHL.
To date, VHLA has awarded over $1.7 million toward research that work toward these goals. Two grant types are available: a one-year $25,000 pilot grant and a two-year $100,000 research grant.
VHLA has funded several exciting new projects in the past few years. Dr. Horst-Shrivers from the University Medical Center in Groningen received a pilot grant award. With the hope of replacing the current blood or urine tests for detecting pheochromocytomas, she is testing whether the hormones released can be reliably measured in saliva. This approach, if successful, will clearly make the lives of individuals living with VHL a lot easier. Dr. Othon Iliopoulos, Associate Professor at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, is using VHL zebrafish to screen for compounds that may alter the effect of VHL mutations. Zebrafish with the VHL gene deleted display a number of VHL lesions similar to those seen in people. Since these tiny fish are relatively transparent, you can actually “see” the effect that potential drugs have on the VHL manifestations. Professor Ian Frew at the University of Freiburg is developing a model of kidney cancer in mice, a task that has been quite difficult to achieve. Dr. Frew is using this model to test new drugs that may treat VHL. Michael B. Gorin, MD, PhD, from the University of California and Raymond Kim, MD, PhD, from the University of Toronto. Dr. Gorin is working on developing two new models to study VHL retinal lesions, one model will use pluripotent stem cells; the other model is a VHL knockout mouse. Dr. Kim is leading the VHL-IT Sharing International Consortium (VISIon) with the goal of developing a more efficient approach to collect information on VHL mutations and the way that VHL manifests in these individuals.
In 2017, Ruhee Dere, PhD, an Assistant Professor Baylor College of Medicine, is the recipient of the Research Grant and Dhuval Patel, MD, a Staff Clinician at NIH’s National Cancer Institute, has been awarded the Pilot Grant.
Dr. Dere recently discovered that a protein called Aurora Kinase A (AURKA) is a novel target of the vhl gene. The mechanism of action is independent of hypoxia-inducible factors (HIFs) on which the drugs currently being tested are based. Using a mouse model, the impact of AURKA inhibition will be assessed. The overall goal of Dr. Dere’s work is to develop a therapy for patients with VHL.
The goal of Dr. Patel’s project is to personalize the management of patients with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (pNETS). Data acquired through this study will lay the groundwork for determining the aggressive nature of pNETS in order to determine the best clinical approach for individual patients.
VHLA anticipates that these talented investigators will help move the field of VHL research forward substantially in the next few years. This exciting research is supported by donations from the VHL community. With support by our donors, VHLA looks forward to funding additional groundbreaking research projects in the years to come.