The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
The H-E-B Professorship in Cancer Research
Investing in innovation, collaboration at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Robin Fuchs-Young, Ph.D., associate professor, and Claudio J. Conti, D.V.M., Ph.D., professor, both of the Department of Carcinogenesis at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, are collaborating on a study of mitochondria and a possible link to diabetes, obesity and cancer.
The H-E-B Professorship in Cancer Research enables Claudio J. Conti, D.V.M., Ph.D., professor in the Department of Carcinogenesis at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, to maintain and continue a dynamic, innovative and competitive research program.
Conti’s laboratory is at the institution’s Virginia Harris Cockrell Cancer Center, Science Park – Research Division, in Smithville. Using tissue culture models and genetically engineered animal models, he studies the molecular events that regulate cell proliferation and differentiation and the changes that allow cancer to develop.
“The funding provided by this endowment is essential to our laboratory operation,” says Conti.
The H-E-B Professorship gives Conti the means to explore new ideas in a timely manner and gather preliminary data before applying for federal research grants.
“It’s a Catch-22. You need proven results to get grant money, but you need money to get those results,” he says. “Traditional funding mechanisms can delay one’s ability to switch gears in today’s fast-paced research environment. Philanthropy is important because it bridges the gap and can be used to jumpstart projects.”
One such project, Conti says, is a collaboration with Science Park – Research Division colleagues and UT Austin to determine whether mitochondria (organelles responsible for providing energy to cells) may hold a link to diabetes, obesity and cancer.
“We know that diet is important in preventing cancer,” says Conti. “Over the years we have altered mitochondrial function by consuming too many calories and not exercising enough. Generating all this energy and not using it favors the accumulation of genetic alterations that eventually can lead to cancer. We have some ideas on how that happens in molecular terms. As we learn more, perhaps we can develop preventive or therapeutic strategies.”
Investigators in Conti’s lab continue to study cell cycle regulators – molecules that regulate cell reproduction – and their role in cancer development. Continuing a longstanding relationship with researchers at the Institut Pasteur in France, they are also working to identify spontaneous genetic mutations in mouse colonies.
“Using these mutants, we have been able to identify novel genes that will provide insight into human diseases of the skin, including skin cancer,” says Conti.
Conti’s reputation for cutting-edge research inspires H-E-B to continue its longtime support of M. D. Anderson, says Charles C. Butt, H. E. Butt Grocery Company chairman and CEO and a senior member of M. D. Anderson’s Board of Visitors.
“The opportunity to underwrite Dr. Conti’s professorship gives us a vehicle to take at least a small part in the advancement of knowledge toward the defeat of cancer,” says Butt.
Conti says he could not have conducted this research without the H-E-B Professorship.
“I’m thankful for the opportunities the H-E-B Professorship has made possible for me,” says Conti. “It gives me the capacity to pursue ideas I’m passionate about. It enables us to properly train investigators and technicians and to cover salaries for laboratory personnel.”
Together, the H-E-B Professorship in Cancer Research and the research it funds illustrate the value of endowed professorships established with broad designation. Such generosity allows M. D. Anderson, one of the world’s most respected centers devoted exclusively to cancer patient care, research, education and prevention, to identify professors of the highest caliber and nurture their research, regardless of the field. This support is significant in M. D. Anderson’s mission to eradicate cancer. It is an investment in hope for cancer patients everywhere.
The H-E-B Professorship in Cancer Research is invested in the Long Term Fund and had a market value of $599,466 as of August 31, 2007.