Looking for Breakthroughs in the Bronx

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Grant through the American Cancer Society's "Pay If" program aims to teach immune system to fight cancer

Bronx, N.Y. (June 17, 2011) –The next breakthrough in the fight against cancer may be no further than the Bronx.

Dr. Salvatore Coniglio is spearheading some very promising research from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Morris Park.  While most scientists look at drugs like chemotherapy to attack cancerous cells within a tumor, Dr. Coniglio is trying a different approach.

The team of researchers at Einstein have discovered that cancer is not only strong- it’s sneaky too.  They have observed that cancer somehow “tricks” a type of cell from our immune system, called macrophages, into helping tumors grow instead of fighting them.  If Dr. Coniglio can stop whatever is causing this manipulation, he can also stop the spread of this disease.

“Macrophages are the first line of defense against any disease in our body,” explains Dr. Coniglio, “so the invasion of something dangerous, like a tumor, should send up a red flag. We’re seeing macrophages fight cancer in the beginning stages but at some point it’s as though they become hypnotized; they switch sides and actually join forces with the cancer cells.  This helps the disease grow and thrive.”

Dr. Coniglio has observed that a single tumor can be made up of 20 percent macrophages from our own immune system.

“If we could just get these healthy cells to snap out of it before they join the ‘dark side’, so to speak, it could be a real game changer,” he explains.

While Dr. Coniglio is primarily studying the relationship between cancer cells and macrophages in glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer, his findings could effect the way we fight cancer in all parts of the body.

“I’m optimistic that this research could lead to the creation of a drug that can help the immune system, specifically macrophages, recognize and fight cancer,” explains Sal.  “Why continuously create treatments to fight a disease when our own immune system can fight it for us?”

Though a peer-review board of medical professionals agreed in that his proposal showed great promise years ago, Dr. Coniglio’s research almost never came to fruition due to a lack of funding.  He was awarded a “pay-if” grant in 2008 and told to wait and see if money became available to fund his research.  Just last month, the American Cancer Society raised $102,000 so that this research could advance.

Since its founding in 1946, the American Cancer Society’s extramural research grants program has devoted more than $3.5 billion to cancer research. It has funded 44 researchers who have gone on to win the Nobel Prize. Locally the American Cancer Society will have 80 education and research grants totaling $46 million active in New York as of July 1st.

Selecting the Researchers
American Cancer Society research grant applications are ranked on the basis of merit by one of several discipline-specific Peer Review Committees, each of which is composed of 12 to 25 scientific advisors or peers who are experts in their fields. The Council for Extramural Grants, a committee of senior scientists, recommends funding based on the relative merit of the applications, the amount of available funds, and the Society's objectives. No member of the American Cancer Society's Board of Directors or National Assembly may serve on a Peer Review Committee or as a voting member on the Council for Extramural Grants.

The Council for Extramural Grants also approved 94 research grant applications that could not be funded due to budgetary constraints. These “pay-if” grants represent work that passed the Society’s multi-disciplinary review process, but go beyond the Society’s current funding resources. The grants serve as an important reminder that there continues to be promising research that cannot be funded with current resources.

Additional Resources
The American Cancer Society "Pay If" program
Cancer Research and the American Cancer Society
American Cancer Society announces more than $2.1 million in Western New York
Albert Einstein College of Medicine

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About the American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society combines an unyielding passion with nearly a century of experience to save lives and end suffering from cancer. As a global grassroots force of more than three million volunteers, we fight for every birthday threatened by every cancer in every community. We save lives by helping people stay well by preventing cancer or detecting it early; helping people get well by being there for them during and after a cancer diagnosis; by finding cures through investment in groundbreaking discovery; and by fighting back by rallying lawmakers to pass laws to defeat cancer and by rallying communities worldwide to join the fight. As the nation’s largest non-governmental investor in cancer research, contributing more than $3.4 billion, we turn what we know about cancer into what we do. As a result, more than 11 million people in America who have had cancer and countless more who have avoided it will be celebrating birthdays this year. To learn more about us or to get help, call us any time, day or night, at 1-800-227-2345 or visit cancer.org.