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Community Foundation for Brevard Awards Florida Tech $60,000 for Medical Research

Grant from Finken Endowment Will Fund Ongoing Studies of Alzheimer’s Disease, Cancer

MELBOURNE, FLA. — The Community Foundation for Brevard awarded a $60,000 grant from the Kenneth R. Finken and Dorothy Hallam Finken Endowment Fund to the Florida Institute of Technology for cause-and-cure projects focused on Alzheimer’s disease and cancer research.

The grant will be shared by Shaohua Xu, associate professor of biological sciences, and Eric Guisbert, assistant professor of biological sciences.

More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, according to The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. “While there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, the discovery that the root cause involves a colloidal process renews our hope of developing new drugs to treat the disease and, ultimately, find a cure,” Xu said.

The identification of destructive gels formed by amyloid fibers in brain cells has introduced a new understanding of the disease and a new target to attack, said Xu. In Alzheimer’s victims, normal protein molecules called “tau” abnormally join to form tangled fibers. The fibers and the gel they produce accumulate until essential substances cannot move through the cell and the cell dies. As brain cells are lost, memory and mental functioning deteriorate. Xu’s project will use his existing body of research to test drugs that he predicts may be able to halt the gel formation process and lead to a cure.

Equally significant is the cancer research being conducted by Guisbert.

“More than 50 years after the United States declared a war on cancer, most cancers remain incurable,” he said. “Here we describe a new approach for the development of a targeted anticancer therapeutic.”

Guisbert’s approach involves the HSF1 mediated heat shock response, a cellular stress response that was identified more than 50 years ago. Several cancers, including breast, colon, and lung cancers, feature increased levels of HSF1 and an increased sensitivity to HSF1 inhibition. Guisbert’s work bridges the study of stress responses in cells and cancer research.

Last year, Guisbert’s laboratory fortuitously identified the first compound that can regulate HSF1 levels. Importantly, this compound was previously identified based on its anticancer activity. This insight puts his research team in to position to develop a cell-based analysis to identify new anti-cancer drugs that target HSF1.

“The Community Foundation for Brevard is proud of its association with Florida Tech and to be stewards of the Finken family legacy and their support for cause-and-cure research,” said Sandi Scannelli, president and CEO of the Community Foundation.

Kenneth Finken was a graduate of Columbia University and held four patents. He retired from the Government Electronic Systems division of Harris Corporation. This is the eighth grant awarded to Florida Institute of Technology from the Community Foundation of Brevard’s Kenneth R. Finken and Dorothy Hallam Finken Endowment Fund for medical research.

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