Dr. Piyali Dasgupta Garners Two Grants


Dr. Piyali Dasgupta, Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Toxicology at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, was recently awarded $300,000 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and $200,000 from the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute (FAMRI) to further her research on lung cancer. Dr. Monica Valentovic, Professor in the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology, Toxicology, will serve as her co-investigator on both grants.


Dr. Dasgupta received a NIH R15 grant, an academic research enhancement award. A major emphasis of the R15 grant is to encourage undergraduate research. The Dasgupta laboratory has an excellent track record of undergraduate research. Marshall undergraduates from Dr. Dasgupta’s laboratory have been selected for research grants, authored publications, and presented at international conferences. She believes that the success of her undergraduate students was the key to being selected for the R15 grant. The R15 grant seeks to explore whether capsaicin (the active ingredient in chili peppers) can improve the anti-cancer activity of cisplatin (a commonly used chemotherapy drug) in human small cell lung cancer (SCLC). She hopes that the results obtained from her studies may lead to novel combination therapies in human SCLCs.


The FAMRI was formed in response to a lawsuit filed by non-smoking flight attendants seeking compensation for second-hand smoke-related injuries in airplanes. One of its major missions is fund research studying the effects of cigarette smoke in tobacco-related diseases like lung cancer. Through a $300 million settlement from the tobacco industry, the FAMRI funds four types of awards: Center of Excellence, Clinical Innovators, Young Clinical Scientists, and Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professors. In 2009, Dr. Dasgupta received a Young Clinical Scientist Award ($300,000; 2009-2012), with the possibility to renew for two years. Due to successful results, Dr. Dasgupta won a renewal; therefore, increasing her grant total from the FAMRI to $500,000. According to the FAMRI website, the Young Clinical Scientist Award was designed to help prepare and support new clinical investigators, particularly research fellows and junior faculty members, to provide the bridge between the clinic and the laboratory for the critical translation of basic research findings into diagnostic and therapeutic approaches” (http://www.famri.org/researchers/awards_history.html).


Dr. Dasgupta’s FAMRI studies investigate how nicotine, the active component of cigarette smoke facilitates the progression of human lung cancer. Her results show that nicotine binds to a receptor called alpha7-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor to promote the growth of human lung cancers. Therefore synthetic compounds which block nicotine-signaling processes should be useful for treatment of lung cancers. The FAMRI grant will help Dr. Dasgupta to identify novel drugs for lung cancer therapy.


Dr. Dasgupta humbly states, “I am grateful to a lot of people for these grants. First, my collaborator, Dr. Valentovic, is a fabulous scientist to work with. I am grateful to all the members of my lab for their hard work and dedication to research. Third I want to thank MU-ADVANCE, particularly Dr. Marcia Harrison, who made it possible for undergraduate students to work in my laboratory. Without them, these grants would not have been possible. Finally, I want to thank my chair Dr. Gary Rankin, for being an excellent research mentor and guide.”


MU-ADVANCE congratulates Dr. Dasgupta and wishes her well as she embarks on these research endeavors.