West Virginia University’s School of Pharmacy will soon become one of the few pharmacy schools in the nation that leads a center of biomedical research excellence. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, these centers support interdisciplinary, thematically related research into preventing, diagnosing and treating health problems. 

NIH has awarded WVU $11.2 million, over five years, to establish a center that focuses on microenvironments surrounding tumors. Just as a plant may thrive in a sunny garden, a benign tumor may be more likely to grow, become cancerous and spread if its surroundings are appropriately acidic, for example. 

Researchers from the WVU School of Pharmacy, School of Medicine and Cancer Institute will work together to investigate how tumors interact with the bodies that house them and the treatments that attack them. This line of inquiry will inform a range of projects. The team will develop new probes for tumor diagnosis, identify better ways to prevent and treat cervical cancer, and explore what makes some brain cancers so tenacious. It will work to improve treatments for leukemia, as well as other blood cancers, and minimize the muscle wasting that breast cancer patients often experience during chemotherapy. 

The center will give researchers access to tumor samples removed from patients and cutting-edge imaging equipment that reveals the molecular underpinnings of individual cancer cells. It will also foster relationships between junior and senior scientists. 

Paul Lockman, the senior associate dean of research in the School of Pharmacy, will lead the efforts. He is also the assistant vice president of experimental therapeutics for the WVU Health Sciences Center, and an associate director of the WVU Cancer Institute. 

"We hope this work will have a significant impact on the treatment of cancer in West Virginia and beyond," said Lockman. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four deaths in the United States is due to cancer. As of 2015, West Virginia had the third-highest cancer death rate in the nation. 

“The WVU Cancer Institute strives to create connections across disciplines to capitalize on the diverse research strengths of the WVU faculty based in the five schools of health science, as well as the larger academic community,” said Richard Goldberg, who directs the Cancer Institute. “This grant, with investigators from multiple schools, exemplifies the value of such collaborative efforts.”   

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number 1P20GM121322. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.