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Faculty member recognized for cancer research

Because Ohio Cancer Research believed in his ideas, a University of Toledo researcher has since earned more than $1.8 million to advance our understanding of the relationship between chromosomal instability and cancer development.

Ohio Cancer Research recently recognized Dr. Song-Tao Liu, UT associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, with its Discover Award for his success in leveraging seed money provided by the organization to obtain federal grants to continue his research.

Dr. Song-Tao Liu received the Ohio Cancer Research Discover Award from Dr. John David Dignam, a past recipient of the honor.

Dr. Song-Tao Liu received the Ohio Cancer Research Discover Award from Dr. John David Dignam, a past recipient of the honor.

“Song-Tao exemplifies the importance of funding new ideas in cancer research, which is the mission of Ohio Cancer Research. He validates that The University of Toledo has some of the most brilliant cancer researchers in the state of Ohio, but also in the country,” said Thomas Lamb, executive director of Ohio Cancer Research. “His work is essential as he advances the fight against cancer and inspires the next generation of scientists that all things are possible with his commitment, dedication and passion for his work.”

The nonprofit organization is dedicated to the cure and prevention of the many forms of cancer and the reduction of its effects through aggressive basic seed money research, cancer information and awareness.

Liu received $50,000 seed grant money from Ohio Cancer Research in 2008, a year after he joined UT, and has since been able to continue his work with $1.8 million in additional funding from the National Science Foundation and National Cancer Institute.

“The grant from Ohio Cancer Research played an important role in getting our research started. It allowed us to generate preliminary data that led to future federal funding,” Liu said. “But more than that, it boosted the confidence of a new investigator and provided opportunities for students to engage in research.”

Liu conducts basic cancer research looking at the issue at its origin – the regulation of cell division. What are the biological processes that cause the division of cancer cells to get so out of control?

With a focus on solid tumors, such as breast cancer, Liu studies why more than 80 percent of those cancer cells have an abnormal number of chromosomes — deviation from the 46, or 23 pairs, in a normal cell. More often the cancer cells have too many chromosomes and the problem is then amplified as those cells divide.

“Cancer has been studied for a long time now and the question remains: Why do we still not have a cure? The reason is most likely chromosomal instability. We are trying to hit a moving target,” Liu said. “Chromosomal instability lets cancer cells develop drug resistance or move elsewhere in the body. We need to understand how the control of cell division works in normal cells and how the control gets lost in cancer cells.”

Liu’s research has identified a gene that is abnormally high in certain breast cancers, and he is zeroing in on the mechanisms the gene plays in cell division in an effort to identify an enzyme inhibitor that could be potentially used for cancer prevention and treatment.

“I am really excited for Song-Tao. The pilot grant he received from Ohio Cancer Research in 2008 was instrumental in getting some of his projects off the ground, and the Discover Award is recognition of Song-Tao’s success in turning that seed money into a nationally recognized program with significant federal funding,” said Dr. Douglas Leaman, professor and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences. “To me, this award also highlights the importance of investing in junior faculty, and so I am equally grateful to Ohio Cancer Research and their commitment to supporting the work of young researchers throughout Ohio as they work to advance our understanding of cancer in all its forms.”

Liu and 17 other UT researchers have received a total $816,649 from Ohio Cancer Research funding that has generated $15,663,689 in external research funding to the University.