University of Arizona Gets $6.9M NCI Grant to Study Skin Cancer Prevention

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Invasive Squamous Cell Carcinoma on Left Arm
Medical portrait of Invasive Skin Cancer on left arm of a patient.

Researchers at the University of Arizona Cancer Center will use a $6.9 million gratn for the National Cancer Insitute (NCI) to look for effect ways to prevent skin cancer development and therapeutic strategies that can reduce the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer, such as squamous cell carcinoma of the skin.

The principal investigator for the program is Clara Curiel-Lewandrowski, M.D., director of the Cutaneous Oncology Program and co-director of the Skin Cancer Institute at the Cancer Center. Curiel-Lewandrowski and her team will assess, in animal models and human studies, the importance of a novel immune protein known as TLR4, which is modulated by solar ultraviolet radiation.

“This award is both an endorsement of the scientific contributions made by the Skin Cancer Institute research team and a true opportunity to make new groundbreaking advances in skin cancer prevention and treatment,” Curiel-Lewandrowski said in a press announcement. “This is a stamp of approval that says the University of Arizona Cancer Center is the place with quality and innovative approaches in skin cancer therapeutic prevention research nationwide.”

The new NCI grant is the latest in a series of awards for Curiel-Lewandrowski and the Skin Cancer Institute team, which has been a leader in skin cancer research, treatment and prevention across Arizona and beyond.

“This highly integrated and translational research-based program project emphasizes the importance of a multidisciplinary and precision-medicine approach for the prevention of squamous cell carcinoma of the skin,” Curiel-Lewandrowski continued. “These discoveries also can serve as a model to prevent other epithelial malignancies.”

A second focus of the grant will build on recent discoveries made by the team to characterize a cascade of messages within skin cells recently that were shown to promote development of skin cancer after exposure to sunlight. The investigators aim to use some of the grant money for the formulation and testing of topical drugs that could include lotions and creams that may effectively inhibit the action of certain proteins that can lead to the development of squamous cell carcinoma.

“We are one of the few institutions that has mastered both experimental and clinical studies that effectively mimic the effect of sunlight,” Curiel-Lewandrowski noted. “These models allow us to test drugs that can reproducibly and accurately stop or reverse the cellular damage caused by the sun through pilot and Phase 1 clinical trials.

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