Scientists spend a large percentage of their time writing grant applications in hopes of securing funding for their research. So it came as quite a surprise to Alana Welm, Ph.D., when a research-funding agency turned the tables and, instead, came looking for her.
Welm, an OMRF scientist, traveled to New York City last week to receive the grant from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation at its annual Symposium and Awards Luncheon at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
“At BCRF, we fund the game changers,” said BCRF President Myra Biblowit. “Thanks to the generosity of our donors and corporate communities, we are able to support over 220 women and men through our grants that will make a real difference and accelerate advances in the battle against breast cancer.”
Welm will use the award, which will provide her laboratory with $200,000 on an annual basis, to further her work in breast cancer. The funds will help establish a bank of tumor samples from about 75 patients with metastatic breast cancer that scientists can study to better understand the disease and how it spreads.
“It’s quite an honor to work with the BCRF and that community of scientists to further our understanding of breast cancer and develop new treatment approaches for this disease,” said Welm, who holds the Scott Zarrow Chair in Biomedical Research at OMRF.
“We want to be able to identify people whose tumors are not aggressive and protect them from the toxic side effects of chemotherapy, while focusing on the bad actors that we really need to treat aggressively and find better ways to do it.”
Welm and her husband and research partner, Bryan Welm, Ph.D., joined OMRF in July from the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute.
Both scientists are keenly interested in “precision medicine,” which uses genetic information to tailor treatments for individual cancer patients. Specifically, the Welms have done pioneering work in the field of patient-derived xenografts, which involves transplanting human tumors into laboratory models to study cancer development.
The pair works closely with physicians at the University of Oklahoma’s Stephenson Cancer Center, where the Welms also serve as members of the cancer biology research program.
“By implanting a patient’s tumor in a model, we can help predict if it will be a recurring cancer and, if so, what combination of therapies will be the safest and most effective for the patient,” Alana Welm said. “Right now, about 30 percent of breast cancers become fatal. We want to improve those odds.”
The new award, said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D., is well deserved. “Dr. Welm’s work has been marked by insight and dedication, and it has a distinctly human focus. She cares deeply about the patients who suffer from this terrible disease, and her work will make a difference in the lives of people who suffer from breast cancer.”