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Breast Cancer Research Grants Awarded to Young Investigators at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute at Lake Nona

ORLANDO, Fla. , October 22, 2010

Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute at Lake Nona has been awarded three grants totaling $365,000 from the Florida Breast Cancer Foundation (FBCF) and the Bankhead-Coley Cancer Research Program.  The grants will fund both the research of potential new cancer therapies as well as support postdoctoral training of young scientists as they pursue cancer treatment theories and gain practical laboratory investigative experience necessary to advance their careers.

The FBCF awarded two $100,000 grants to support two-year fellowships. The first grant entitled, “Orexin, a Brain Hormone as a Therapeutic Target for Invasive Breast Cancer,” will be conducted by Dr. Preeti Bharaj, whose principal investigator mentor is Dr.  Devanjan Sikder, D.V.M., Ph.D., Assistant Professor.  The second two-year FBCF Fellowship grant will be applied to research on the destruction of blood vessels in tumors, under the supervision of Dr. Masanobu Komatsu, Associate Professor.  The Bankhead-Coley program grant of $165,000 was awarded in association with the Florida Department of Health to support a three-year fellowship for Dr. Takeo Urakami, who also works in Dr. Komatsu’s lab, to test a new strategy for improving drug delivery to tumors. 

“The Florida Breast Cancer Foundation is very pleased to support such a well-respected institution as Sanford-Burnham.  The mutual intent of our project is quite simple -- to work in collaboration on finding a cure for breast cancer.  The cutting edge research being done, coupled with outstanding professionalism at all levels, was very impressive and led us to the decision to award our fellowship program to Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute at Lake Nona,” said James R. Konschnik, president and CEO of the Florida Breast Cancer Foundation.

With about 192,000 new cases and 40,000 deaths  each year, breast cancer has a major impact on the quality of life. The Sikder and Komatsu labs are investigating different avenues of promising cancer therapies. 

The Sikder lab recently discovered that breast tumors produce a hormone called Orexin that propels tumors to function at an enhanced capacity and contributes to uncontrolled tumor growth. During her fellowship, Dr. Bharaj will pursue research to cut off the tumor cell’s ability to communicate with Orexin as a potential therapeutic strategy for combating breast cancer.  

The Komatsu laboratory has recently identified a key protein that is responsible for the maturation of tumor blood vessels.  The FBCF Fellowship grant will support research into the disruption of the protein’s function, which results in the loss of mature blood vessels within tumors.  Dr. Komatsu theorizes that the protein represents a unique molecular target for breast cancer treatment, and in combination with existing anti-tumor growth drugs, may prove to be an effective breast cancer therapy.

The biomedical research at Sanford-Burnham is conducted in a culture of collaboration that begins with attracting the best and brightest scientists. The fellowship grants provide critical assistance in the recruitment and training of young scientists who have received a doctoral degree (PhD) and are engaged in mentored advanced training to build the professional and research independence needed to pursue a specific career path.

About Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute

Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute is dedicated to discovering the fundamental molecular causes of disease and devising the innovative therapies of tomorrow. Sanford-Burnham takes a collaborative approach to medical research with major programs in cancer, neurodegeneration and stem cells, diabetes, and infectious, inflammatory, and childhood diseases. The Institute is recognized for its National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center and expertise in drug discovery technologies. Sanford-Burnham is a nonprofit, independent institute that employs more than 1,000 scientists and staff in San Diego (La Jolla), Calif., and Orlando (Lake Nona), Fla. For more information, visit us at

Sanford-Burnham can also be found on Facebook at and on Twitter @sanfordburnham.

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