KU research award recipients working toward new vaccines, better breast cancer response to immunotherapy

LAWRENCE — Two projects — one investigating vaccine efficacy for chlamydia and Lyme disease and the other trying to improve breast cancer response to immunotherapy — were selected to receive the 2023 J.R. and Inez Jay Fund research award. Researchers from the Department of Molecular Biosciences will conduct both projects.

Scott Hefty

Scott Hefty, professor of molecular biosciences and director of the National Institutes of Health-funded Center of Biomedical Research Excellence in Chemical Biology of Infectious Disease, received an award for a proposal titled “Pilot Vaccine (Borrelia and Chlamydia).” Chlamydia and Lyme disease infect millions of people worldwide each year, and there are currently no approved vaccines for either. This project aims to obtain preliminary data supporting the efficacy of vaccine formulations that have been developed for each disease by Hefty’s lab. The preliminary data will be used to secure NIH funding to perform more detailed analyses that could lead to the development of effective vaccines for these two major health challenges. Hefty will collaborate on this project with Peter Petillo from Design-Zyme LLC, a local biotechnology company affiliated with KU.

Liang Xu

Liang Xu, professor of molecular biosciences, submitted the other selected project: “Improving Breast Cancer Immunotherapy by Targeting RNA-binding Protein HuR.”  Cancer immunotherapy with immune checkpoint blockers (ICBs) has shown a durable and impressive response for some types of cancers. However, breast cancer has shown only a low response to ICB therapy. This project aims to improve breast cancer immunotherapy efficacy by targeting the RNA-binding protein HuR. Xu will collaborate with a team of 10 researchers from KU and other institutions. The six participating KU researchers are Xiaoqing Wu, associate research professor at the Higuchi Biosciences Center; Robin Orozco, assistant professor of molecular biosciences; Yinglong Miao, associate professor of molecular biosciences; Michael Hageman, Valentino J. Stella Distinguished Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and director of the Biopharmaceutical Innovation & Optimization Center; Scott Lovell, director of the KU Protein Structure & X-ray Crystallography Laboratory; and Justin Douglas, director of the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Laboratory. Two faculty members from the KU Medical Center will also join the team: Danny Welch, professor of cancer biology and molecular & integrative physiology, and Fen Wang, professor of radiation oncology. The last two team members will be Jeff Aubé, Fred Eshelman Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, jointly appointed at the School of Pharmacy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and Yong Zeng, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Florida. 

The J.R. and Inez Jay Research Fund was established in 1977 through an estate gift to KU Endowment from Inez Jay. Her late husband, John Jay, was a pharmacist in Wichita.

The purpose of the Jay Fund is to stimulate collaborative, interdisciplinary, biomedical research activities in pursuit of large external grants such as multi-investigator National Institutes of Health project grants, program projects and center grants awarded under the tutelage of the Higuchi Biosciences Center. All biomedical scientists holding principal investigator status at KU are eligible to apply for the awards. Recipients are selected by members of the Higuchi Biosciences Center internal advisory committee.

KU Endowment is the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.

Tue, 05/30/2023


Nicole Suchy

Media Contacts

Nicole Suchy

Higuchi Biosciences Center