American Cancer Society-Institutional Research Grants
Description of the Program
The American Cancer Society-Institutional Research Grant (ACS-IRG) is the major source of support at Vanderbilt University for young investigators building cancer research programs. These funds are designed to provide seed money to support junior faculty members with an interest in cancer research who do not have national grant support of their own or who have not received prior support from the IRG. The ACS defines junior faculty as investigators at the rank of assistant professor or equivalent who are eligible to apply as a principal investigator for grant support from national agencies.
For many investigators, support from ACS-IRG pilot projects represents their first, independent research grant. Further, the written comments that the applicants receive upon review of their application are invaluable for subsequent submissions of larger research projects to the ACS or NIH or for resubmission of the pilot, if it is not funded through the ACS-IRG on the first round. Another dividend of the ACS-IRG program is that the reviewers, through their written comments, help mentor new investigators in grant writing skills. This is evident by the high number (75%) of successful resubmissions. Awards are made for a one-year project period and the maximum allocation is limited to $20,000. Funds are available to all schools at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Jennifer Pietenpol is Principal Investigator of the program and oversees the solicitation, review, and funding of successful applications. She is assisted by an outstanding review committee made up of junior and senior investigators from basic and clinical departments, many of who have received support from the ACS-IRG program at Vanderbilt.
Examples of Research Supported
The ACS-IRG, in its 47th year of continuous funding, has supported a broad range of exciting research. Highlights over the past five years from research funded include: 1) discovery that TGF-beta signaling in fibroblasts modulates the growth and oncogenic potential of adjacent prostate epithelia using in vivo; 2) establishment of a rapid separation strategy that can be coupled with analytical methods, such as mass spectrometry, to provide comprehensive monitoring of the changing concentration, interactions, and structures of proteins in the proteome; 3) discovery that children undergoing bone marrow transplant are at risk for diminished bone mass due to risk factors including: active graft vs. host diseases, the use of high dose dexamethasone, and allogenic bone marrow transplantation; 4) successful recruitment of African Americans into focus group research to discuss cancer and cancer research which is an important first step in interacting with the minority community to begin to reduce barriers to research participation and ultimately improve minority recruitment into cancer clinical trials, both treatment and prevention; and 5) finding that venlafaxine (an antidepressant) has significant impact on resting energy expenditure, appetite, and energy intake among breast cancer survivors. Of the 36 funded applications, 24 were made to tenure-track faculty, 12 grants were awarded to research-track faculty. Four of these research-track faculty have since secured tenure-track faculty positions.
One of the best measures of success of a pilot project program is conversion of pilot projects to extramurally funded research grants. Over the past five years, the ACS has invested $625,000 into the Vanderbilt IRG to fund cancer-based pilot projects. This investment has led to acquisition of $7.6M of extramurally funded grants by recipients of ACS-IRG pilot projects as well as $7.9M currently pending. Of note, this includes two ACS research grants to Drs. Wasif Khan and Katherine Friedman for their work on B-lymphocyte receptor signaling and telomerase, respectively. Thus, the ACS-IRG program has had an outstanding return on investment and has been instrumental in the establishing the independent careers of numerous scientists at Vanderbilt.