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UNC Lineberger scientists Blossom Damania, PhD, Dirk Dittmer, PhD, and Liza Makowski, PhD, have been awarded two-year National Cancer Institute Provocative Questions grants.

Drs. Dittmer and Damania have received a grant to study how lymphomas respond to different chemotherapies in response to their provocative question: What molecular properties make some cancers curable with conventional chemotherapy? This study involves research in the U.S., South America, Africa, and India, and is part of the UNC Lineberger Global Oncology program. Drs. Damania and Dittmer are professors of microbiology and immunology and direct the UNC Global Oncology Program.

Dr. Makowski’s research will address the question: “How does obesity affect cancer risk?” Obesity is a contributing factor in at least half of basal-like breast cancers, suggesting that this aggressive subtype of breast cancer may be preventable. Given that basal-like breast cancer is most prevalent in young African American women, targeted prevention may help reduce mortality disparities. This project tests the reversibility of obesity-associated risk using dietary and pharmacologic interventions, leading to identification of mechanistically based strategies for prevention of obesity-associated basal-like breast cancer. Dr. Makowski is an assistant professor of nutrition in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Begun in 2012, the NCI Provocative Questions Initiative has assembled a list of important questions from the research community to stimulate the NCI’s research communities to use laboratory, clinical and population sciences in especially effective and imaginative ways to answer the questions. Grants are awarded annually I response to these questions. These grants are not intended to represent the NCI’s full range of priorities, but rather represent a new and different way to identify and address research needs in cancer by challenging researchers to delve into key areas that require more in-depth study.

Date: August 20, 2013