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NMSU kinesiology professor awarded grant for cancer-related research

  • By Adriana M. Chávez
  • 575-646-1957
  • adchavez@nmsu.edu
  • Nov 16, 2021
Head and shoulders of a man

Sang-Rok Lee, a kinesiology associate professor at New Mexico State University, has received an internal grant from the Partnership for the Advancement of Cancer Research (PACR) between NMSU and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center supported by the National Cancer Institute.

Lee and his research partner at Fred Hutch, David Hockenbery, received funds for a full project titled, “Exercise Countermeasure Strategies to Counteract Cancer Cachexia and Starve Tumors.” The project is funded through Aug. 31, 2023. Their research will focus on cancer-associated cachexia, which is a condition characterized by severe muscle wasting despite nutritional support in patients with metastatic cancers. His research addresses the role exercise may play as a prevention measure to cancer-induced cachexia and tumor growth. 

About 80 percent of metastatic cancer patients suffer from cachexia, which often renders them too weak to tolerate standard doses of anticancer therapies and makes them susceptible to death from cardiac and respiratory failure. Current treatments to reduce cachexia have not led to positive clinical outcomes.

“As director at NMSU of the U54 PACR, I am very excited to welcome Dr. Sang-Rok Lee and Dr. David Hockenbery into the partnership,” said Graciela A. Unguez, who is also an NMSU Regents professor and co-director of Maximizing Access to Research Careers. “Dr. Lee's participation in the U54 PACR is also exciting as it expands the participation of more investigators at NMSU who carry out research in biomedical fields that impact health disparities in our state of New Mexico.

Unguez said she has known Lee since he started at NMSU in 2015. Unguez and Lee share research interests that focus on skeletal muscle function and plasticity using vertebrae animal model systems that can be translated to increase the knowledge and potential solutions to human muscle disorders and diseases. 

The research by Lee and Hockenbery aims to characterize the potential benefits from different exercise regimes on minimizing both tumor growth and muscle wasting in mice models of cancer and can have important implications for development of new solutions in cancer patients. 

Lee attributes his successful grant award to attending the National Institutes of Health-funded iMERS, or Interactive Mentoring to Enhance Research Skill, conference in 2019. The deadline to attend the 2022 conference is Dec. 3 at the University of Kentucky.

“The NIH Interactive Grant-Writing Workshop is greatly helpful for researchers at Minority-Serving Institutions to improve their grant proposal,” Lee said. “I learned strategies from the experts who have successfully completed NIH-funded research projects for a path toward successful grant proposal development. Participating in the workshop allowed me to get a thorough knowledge of NIH funding mechanisms and greatly helped to enhance my grantsmanship ability to the higher level.” 

A list of past and current funded investigator teams from NMSU and Fred Hutch may be found at https://cancer.nmsu.edu/about/team.html.