NEWS | September 23, 2016

Lam obtains major federal grants


Kit Lam, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, has received two major cancer research grants totaling more than $3 million.

Kit Lam Kit Lam

The first, a $2 million, 4-year grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, will fund collaborative research with Michele Steffey of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine on the use of targeted nanotherapeutics against oral cancer in mice and cats. The second, a $1.2 million, 3-year grant from the National Cancer Institute, will explore a novel technology for functional imaging in living cells.

For the first project, Lam and Steffey will study a new approach to treating oral squamous cell carcinoma, one of the most prevalent cancers worldwide. In mice with human oral cancer, they will test a novel nanoparticle developed by Lam and UC Davis colleague Yuanpei Li, called nanoporphyrin, which can preferentially deliver toxic cancer drugs and imaging agents to cancers. When illuminated with light, the nanoporphyrin can generate oxidants and heat that also are toxic to the tumor. Working with Steffey, they will use the nanoparticles to deliver standard chemotherapy to cats with oral cancer then deliver phototherapy. If successful in cats, the approach could be used to treat human oral cancers.

The second grant will support Lam’s development of a novel technology called genetically encoded small illuminant (GESI), which allows high-resolution imaging of cell function in a living cell. GESI consists of short peptides that bind to an organic dye, which then sends out fluorescent light. The peptides can be genetically cloned into a specific protein inside the living cell. The fluorescent signal allows scientists to observe the cell’s function in real time.

Lam is working on the GESI project with Ruiwu Liu and Lin Tian, also of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, as well as Yoshi Takada of the UC Davis Department of Dermatology.