Vol 9. Issue 27 / September 21, 2009

Rendina Family Foundation Awards Grant to Spur Research on Glioblastoma

By Eric Sauter

The Rendina Family Foundation has awarded a $150,000 grant to Derek Duckett, an associate scientific director with the Translational Research Institute at Scripps Florida.

The two-year award will support the salary and training of a postdoctoral scientist working on potential treatments for glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.

"I am delighted to receive this grant from the Rendina Foundation," Duckett said. "Our laboratory has recently developed several novel tools to help understand certain critical aspects of this disease, so the help couldn't come at a more perfect time. This funding will enable us to generate some critically important proof-of-principle studies for potential new glioblastoma therapies."

Glioblastoma multiforme, the most malignant form of the disease and the most common, are tumors that form from glial cells, which support and protect neurons in the brain and spinal cord. Treatment options are extremely limited and patients with the disease usually die within a year of diagnosis. The primary reason for this grim prognosis is the complexity of the tumor itself, which is why the work of scientists like Duckett and the support of philanthropies like the Rendina Family Foundation are so important.

"We are pleased to support the work of scientists like Derek and his colleagues at Scripps Florida," said Michael Rendina, the foundation's president. "The death of my father and the recent death of Senator Kennedy from this cancer show just how far we have to go in finding new treatments. Derek's research represents the kind of innovative science that we need in the fight against cancers like glioblastoma, so that one day we can finally put an end to this terrible disease."

Pointing the Way

In his work, Duckett and his colleagues have focused on the Jun-N-terminal kinase or JNK as a potential treatment target for this virulent form of cancer.

The JNK kinases are enzymes involved in a range of cellular signaling pathways, and have been implicated in important processes including metabolic reactions, gene regulation, and cell proliferation – all areas where any significant disruption can lead to cancer, diabetes, or inflammatory disease. For glioblastoma, the single most important factor in the virtually unstoppable progression of the disease is the ability of infiltrating tumor cells to disperse into distant brain tissue. Recently, in vitro experiments done by Duckett and his colleagues have shown that inhibiting JNK in glioblastoma cells, by either genetic modification or the use of small molecule inhibitors, dramatically inhibits both glioblastoma cell migration and invasion.

Duckett hopes his research program will lead to a better understanding of the role that uncontrolled JNK signaling plays in the migration and invasion of glioblastoma cells, as well as illuminating potential treatment options.

"We have reached the stage in our discovery efforts that our small molecule JNK inhibitors have desirable drug-like properties," Duckett said, "and we plan to study the efficacy of these molecules in glioblastoma tumor models. This generous grant from the Rendina Foundation will help us go one step further in terms of advancing novel treatments – to see how our small molecule inhibitors might enhance the action of other therapies such as chemotherapies and radiation."

Bruce Rendina and his wife Marji established the Rendina Family Foundation in 1997. Rendina was a recognized leader in the healthcare industry, founding the Rendina Companies, a full-service medical real estate development firm. Since his death in 2006 from brain cancer, his family has led the foundation's work.

Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu



"This funding will enable us to generate some critically important proof-of-principle studies," says Scripps Florida's Derek Duckett.