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American Cancer Society-Institutional Research Grants

Description of the Program

The American Cancer Society (ACS)-Institutional Research Grant (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. Eligible investigators must be within six years of their first independent faculty appointment.

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 of successful resubmissions. Awards are made for a one-year project period and the maximum allocation is limited to $30,000. If sufficient progress has been made toward the project goals, IRG support may be renewed for an additional year. Funds are available to all schools at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Scott Hiebert is Principal Investigator of the program and oversees the solicitation, review, and funding of successful applications. He 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 55th year of continuous funding, has supported a broad range of exciting research. Highlights over the past five years from research funded include: 1) discovery of a novel breast cancer meta-signature capable of predicting poor-prognosis risk in patients with breast cancer; 2) establishment of data sets to address racial disparities in the quality of care and improvement in access to patients with bladder cancer; 3) selection and evaluation of promising miRNAs for ovarian cancer risk prediction; 4) focused research on the validation of advanced magnetic resonance imaging techniques to identify early response biomarkers in pancreatic cancer patients; and 5) identifying metabolic syndrome risk of long-term survivors of pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia towards the development of preventive interventions. Of the 24 funded applications, 23 were made to tenure-track faculty, and onegrant was awarded to a research-track faculty who subsequently secured a tenure-track faculty position.

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 $660,000 into the Vanderbilt IRG to fund cancer-based pilot projects. This investment has led to acquisition of $15M of extramurally funded grants by recipients of ACS-IRG pilot projects. 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.