UNMC professor receives $792,000 American Cancer Society research grant


Jared Barton

Leah M. Cook, Ph.D., stands with Andy Link to accept her research grant. Photo courtesy of the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Leah M. Cook, Ph.D., of the University of Nebraska Medical Center received a grant Thursday, Feb. 13, for $792,000 for research in metastatic prostate cancer, specifically the effects on bones.

“The technical goal of my research is to develop effective treatments for men with metastatic prostate cancer,” said Cook, an assistant professor of Pathology & Microbiology at UNMC.

The research is focused on the impact of polymorphonucelar neutrophils (PMNs) on cancer and finding out if PMNs can be used to prevent bone remodeling. The bone remodeling takes place as the cancer cells develop within bone cells and use their growth mechanism as a channel for spread, manifesting in bone degradation and improper growth.

PMNs, according to the National Cancer Institute, are a type of white blood cell that contain enzymes they release to fight infection, allergies and asthma. Neutrophils generally will also be used to ward off bacteria and fungi. In this specific instance, they are fighting cancer.

Cook purports that further research into how the PMNs and cancer cells interact within the bones can provide answers as to how the cancer is able to hijack the regular bone stroma development.

According to Cook’s research profile on UNMC’s website, the end goal is to “identify novel immunotherapeutic targets for treating and curing metastatic cancers.”

The grant marks the NU system’s 186th grant from the American Cancer Society since 1953.

At the presentation of the grant, Andy Link, health systems manager for the American Cancer Society, noted the purpose of The Society in relation to the grant.

“Since 1946, The Society has supported researchers at pivotal points in their careers, giving them the support they need to keep research going and take their ideas from dream to reality,” Link said.

The American Cancer Society is a private non-profit that has supported this kind of research since 1946 through private grants totaling over $4.9 billion for research and education across over 200 institutions. The Society has funded 49 Nobel Prize recipients’ research.

More information on cancer and the American Cancer Society can be found at Cancer.org