Bear Cub grants awarded to WUSTL scientists

Washington University has awarded five Bear Cub Fund grants totaling $165,000 to support innovative research that has shown commercial potential.

The funding will help scientists further develop their technology and take it to the proof-of-principal stage.

The grants were awarded to:

  • Patrick Crowley, PhD, associate professor of computer science and engineering;
  • Dennis Hallahan, MD, the Elizabeth H. and James S. McDonnell III Distinguished Professor in Medicine and head of the Department of Radiation Oncology;
  • Eric Leuthardt, MD, assistant professor of neurological surgery and of neurobiology;
  • Jerry Morrissey, PhD, research professor of anesthesiology, and Evan Kharasch, MD, PhD, vice chancellor for research and the Russell and Mary Shelden Professor of Anesthesiology; and
  • Linda Sandell, PhD, the Mildred B. Simon Research Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, and Zhepeng Wang, PhD, a scientist in her lab.

Crowley is developing computer software technology that can rapidly scan and evaluate the quality of incoming data. The technology would act as a gatekeeper on a computer’s operating system to interrupt corrupted files or computer viruses.

Hallahan has identified new molecular targets for cancer therapy, including proteins that are activated in cancer cells in response to radiation therapy. He has a collection of 700 antibodies that can bind to several of these radiation-induced proteins and deliver cancer drugs directly to tumor cells. Hallahan now will evaluate whether any of the antibodies bind to tumor cells in patients with pancreatic or non-small cell lung cancer or glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer.

Leuthardt and his colleagues have developed an intracranial pressure monitor that can be implanted surgically to constantly measure fluid pressure levels in the brain. About one in 500 babies is born with hydrocephalus, a buildup of fluid on the brain. It is most often treated surgically by inserting a shunt that diverts the fluid to another area of the body. The shunts require regular monitoring and sometimes malfunction, leading to life-threatening problems. Currently, the only way to accurately determine whether a shunt is working properly is to measure intracranial pressure, which is now only possible during surgery. Leuthardt will evaluate the device in animal models.

Morrissey and Kharasch are developing a rapid, cost-effective test for the early detection of kidney cancer. They have identified a pair of proteins excreted in the urine that have the potential to detect about 90 percent of all kidney cancers. More than 54,000 Americans are diagnosed with kidney cancer each year, but early detection is a challenge because symptoms rarely occur until after the disease has spread, when it is more difficult to treat. They will evaluate a prototype of the test in patients.

Sandell and Wang’s project will evaluate whether chondrostatin, a component of cartilage, can shrink breast and musculoskeletal tumors in animal models. Cartilage naturally contains factors that block the formation of blood vessels, including those feed into tumors. To date, chondrostatin has been effective in much lower concentrations than other cancer drugs, perhaps because it inhibits both the growth of blood vessels to tumors and kills cancer cells. This differs from other compounds that cut off the blood supply to tumors, which must be used in combination with drugs designed to kill cancer cells.

The Bear Cub Fund, made up of endowment income and capital from private sources, is administered through the university’s Office of Technology Management.