Frances Williams Preston Lab


"We have been partners with the Martell Foundation in the fight against cancer for the past 12 years, and the foundation's support has been critical to our success. This funding has been instrumental in jumpstarting the truly groundbreaking research that is often difficult to fund through more traditional sources. The work that the Martell Foundation has made possible has led to findings that we've then leveraged into larger grants from the NCI and other sources; in fact, the approximately $15 million that we've received from the Martell Foundation has directly led to more than $100 million in grants from the NCI and elsewhere."
- Harold Moses, MD

The T.J. Martell Foundation became an important partner with the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in 1993, when the Martell Foundation established the Frances Williams Preston Laboratories. These “laboratories without walls” were created in honor of Frances Preston, a music industry icon and president of the Martell Foundation's board and served as an important cornerstone in the creation of the then-new Vanderbilt Cancer Center. Since that time, this marriage of music and medicine has led to important discoveries in the fight against cancer and built an important foundation for even greater advances in the years ahead. We have remained true to our commitment to deploy the resources provided by the Martell Foundation in ways that will have the greatest impact, to explore the most innovative frontiers of cancer research, from nascent research in genetic approaches in the labs’ early days to our current focus on proteomics and early detection and prevention.

Directed by Dr. Harold L. Moses, the founding director of our cancer center, the Preston Laboratories include the work of 20 senior scientists with nearly $40 million in active funding from the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense and the pharmaceutical industry.

A sampling of recent discoveries by these teams, made possible by the support from the T.J. Martell Foundation, include:

  • Dr. Carlos Arteaga, Vice-Chancellor’s Chair in Breast Cancer Research, and his colleagues have found a clue that may help solve one of oncology’s most frustrating challenges – the failure of treatments to completely wipe out advanced cancers, leaving patients vulnerable to future recurrence and progression. This team has found evidence that a treatment-induced increase in a growth factor called TGF-beta serves as a survival signal for cancer cells, allowing them to withstand therapy and later grow and spread. This work suggests that inhibitors of this growth factor might be used in combination with chemotherapy or radiation to improve the tumor-killing effect of therapy. The work was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
  • Dr. David Carbone, Harold L Moses Professor of Cancer Research, and colleagues recently discovered a “signature” of proteins in the blood that can predict which patients with advanced lung cancer will live longer when treated with certain targeted therapies. The findings, if confirmed in upcoming clinical trials, could contribute to the era of “personalized oncology,” where specific characteristics about an individual’s genetic make-up and the molecular features of the tumor are used to guide more effective treatment decisions. The work was reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
  • Dr. Harold Moses, director of the Preston Laboratories, and his colleagues have developed an animal model for pancreatic cancer with great similarity to human tumors. The first realistic animal model of pancreatic cancer, reported in 2003, has a significant disadvantage in that it does not mimic human disease closely. However, these new genetically altered mice open the door to new opportunities to test targeted treatments and screening methods for what remains one of the most deadly of all cancers, with a five-year survival rate of less than 5 percent. Their work was recently published by Genes and Development.

In addition to fueling specific discoveries like these, the impact of the T.J. Martell Foundation is felt throughout our Cancer Center as we use these critical funds to support key people and key technologies that benefit a multitude of laboratories and projects. These include investments in proteomics, DNA microarray and biostatistical infrastructure. We also have invested strategically in specific high-risk/high-payoff projects. This strategy has generated a healthy return on investment – the more than $15 million we’ve received has been leveraged into more than $100 million in ongoing support from the National Cancer Institute and other sources. The most recent include:

  • Renewal of our Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in gastrointestinal cancer ($12.1 million over five years)
  • Anticipated renewal of our SPORE in lung cancer ($13.1 million over five years).
  • Renewal of the Southern Community Cohort Study ($28.3 million over five years)
  • Award of a new Clinical Proteomic Technology Assessment in Cancer grant ($7.3 million over five years)
  • Award of a new Tumor Microenvironment Network grant ($7.6 million over five years)

These are just a few examples of recent accomplishments that would not have been possible without the ongoing support of the T.J. Martell Foundation. We look forward to future discoveries to allow better treatment of patients with many types of cancers, including breast, prostate, colon, lung, and blood-related cancers such as leukemias. We eagerly anticipate the advances we’ll make together to find cancers early and to prevent them altogether. The researchers and physician-scientists of the Preston Laboratories – and most importantly the patients and families impacted by cancer today and in the future – remain ever grateful to the Martell Foundation for its contributions to our work and to the worldwide fight against cancer.

Our people

The Frances Williams Preston Laboratories are a "lab without walls" involving the work of dozens of scientists in many areas of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and Vanderbilt University and Medical Center. The laboratories' founding and current director is Hal Moses, MD, director emeritus of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and Hortense B. Ingram Professor of Molecular Oncology.

Key members of Preston Laboratories research team:

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