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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Triad Golfers Against Cancer has awarded one-year research grants to two physician-scientists at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Stefanie Sarantopoulos, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine, received $25,000 to study ways of improving survival in patients with leukemia and lymphoma. Andrew Wang, MD, assistant professor of radiation oncology, received $34,000 to develop biologically targeted nanoparticles to better deliver and improve chemo and radiation therapy for rectal cancer.

“The Triad Golfers Against Cancer organization was very pleased to be able to support these projects by Drs. Sarantopolous and Wang. It is always a pleasure to work with the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Hopefully these projects will help to ‘speed the cure,’” said Dr. J Bruce Lyon, chair of the Golfers Against Cancer.

Sarantopoulos’ co-investigators include Patricia Ropp, PhD, research associate, and Jenna Wooten, PhD, a postdoctoral research associate, both at UNC Lineberger. The team will conduct laboratory research to define immune markers that predict the development of chronic graft versus host disease (cGVHD) in stem cell transplantation. cGVHD is a serious complication of stem cell and bone marrow transplantation when transplanted immune cells attack both cancer cells (as intended) but also normal tissue. cGVHD is a leading cause of death in patients receiving stem/marrow transplants from donors. If physicians can predict which transplant patients will develop cGVHD, they can give medicines to prevent it.

Wang’s co-investigators are Michael Werner, a postdoctoral research associate, Joel Tepper, MD, Hector MacLean Distinguished Professor, and Adrienne Cox, PhD, associate professor of radiation oncology, both UNC Lineberger faculty members. The team will conduct lab-based research to develop targeted nanoparticles to more effectively deliver drugs that makes tumor cells more sensitive to radiation therapy.

Combined chemo and radiation therapy carries with it a higher risk of an adverse or toxic reaction in a patient than either therapy alone. This limits the number of patients who may safely receive the potentially lifesaving combination therapies. If the delivery method for these drugs could better target and penetrate tumor cells without being toxic to normal tissues, then the more effective combinations of therapies would be available to more patients.

Golfers Against Cancer, founded in 1997, is a national charitable organization that has raised over $10 million to fund cancer research. The Triad GAC , an all-volunteer organization, has raised over $1.5 million, all of which has been donated to four North Carolina research universities – East Carolina, Wake Forest, Duke and UNC. Since 2006, they have funded key research projects at UNC Lineberger totaling $394,000.