Brody Brothers grants help ECU researchers expand important health studies

Several East Carolina University medical researchers recently got a funding boost to expand their studies of common health issues, thanks to the Brody Brothers Foundation.

This year, the Brody Brothers Foundation Endowment Fund awarded $144,915 to be divided among four grant proposals focusing on cancer, liver failure, bladder dysfunction and intestinal diseases. The Brody Brothers grants are often an invaluable stepping stone to acquiring even larger federal grants, according to past and current recipients.

Brody Brothers grants

Brody Brothers grants are often an invaluable stepping stone to acquiring even larger federal grants.according to past and current recipients. (Photo courtesy of ECU Advancement)

Biochemistry and molecular biology research professor Dr. Myles Cabot’s $41,015 grant will be used to continue his study of chemotherapy resistance. Drug resistance is a major cause of cancer treatment failure in patients. While many researchers are working on developing new chemotherapies, Cabot is using a different approach to help patients with cancer and extend their lives.

“We’re familiar with flu strains that become resistant to vaccines. Cancer cells can become rapidly resistant to therapies, too,” he said. “If we don’t treat resistance when we treat the patient, we’re not doing a complete job.”

ECU is collaborating with the University of Virginia and the Penn State Cancer Institute on a $12 million leukemia grant that Cabot said they are in the process of renewing.

“This Brody Brothers money will help us do the experiments needed to make this renewal application strong,” he said. “If we don’t have this type of early funding, it’s very difficult to get good preliminary data. These funds allow us to acquire compelling preliminary data that are necessary to be successful in today’s grant environment.”

The Brody Brothers Foundation was established in 1999 when the Brody family of eastern North Carolina donated $7 million to fund research projects at the medical school. Since awarding its first grants in 2005, the foundation has provided more than $1.1 million to support work related to diseases that most impact the lives of North Carolinians.

The other ECU researchers to receive funding this year are:

Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology professor Dr. Yan-Hua Chen, who, along with professor Dr. Qun Lu, is studying various intestinal diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer, both prevalent in eastern North Carolina. This project is the first to explore the impact of a certain type of protein on intestinal stem cell functions, potentially identifying new treatments for human intestinal diseases.

Dr. Darrell Neufer, physiology professor and director of the East Carolina Diabetes and Obesity Institute, is studying problems in the liver associated with fructose intake in one’s diet. Fructose is a simple sugar found in sucrose and high fructose corn syrup, which in high quantities can negatively affect the body and increase the risk of developing obesity and diabetes. Neufer’s research is part of a larger project with colleagues at Boston University.

Assistant physiology professor Dr. Johanna Hannan is trying to understand the underlying mechanisms of bladder dysfunction, a common symptom in obese and Type 2 diabetic men and women. Hannan is working to develop therapies to reverse its progression by examining how mitochondria—the powerhouses of cells—are contributing to obesity-induced bladder dysfunction. Further understanding of mitochondrial physiology in bladder dysfunction could lead to better therapeutic treatments.

Related story: New Brody Brothers grants push ECU researchers toward medical breakthroughs