COLLEGE STATION, Texas (FOX 44) – A team of Texas A&M University researchers has received a $2.3 millon grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The grant will be used to further explore a unique immunotherapy which could be the first of its kind to treat colon cancer – and could hold the key to treating other forms of cancer, as well.

The university says this four-year project will determine how to best utilize a new class of drugs developed in the laboratory of Dr. Stephen Safe – a Distinguished Professor in the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (VMBS) Department of Veterinary Physiology & Pharmacology. The project will also explore the effects of the new compounds on human and murine (mice/related rodent) cancer cells.

Led by Safe, the team also includes VMBS researchers Gus Wright and James Cai, as well as College of Agriculture and Life Sciences researcher Robert Chapkin and Houston Methodist Hospital oncologist Maen Abdelrahim.

Safe’s compounds target two receptors, NR4A1 and NR4A2, are normally responsible for helping humans and animals lower stress levels – but are overexpressed in colon cancer and other solid tumors. 

Not only does their preliminary data indicate that their compounds act as an immunotherapy and kill the tumor, but the compounds also rejuvenate the immune system – which becomes exhausted as it responds to cancer.  

Immunotherapies work by separating the T-cells from the tumor – allowing the immune system to destroy the tumor the way it would any other infection in your body.  

In the next phase of their research, the team will use the NIH grant to explore other areas of how the compounds work to, hopefully, prepare it for clinical trials.