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Innovation grows from seed money

Annual Report - Annual Report - Winter 2014

By Katrina Burton

In 1976, two men named Steve pulled together $1,300 by selling a Volkswagen bus and a scientific calculator, and started a company. Their last names were Jobs and Wozniak, and the start-up was Apple, which is worth billions of dollars today.

This story illustrates the importance of seed money in transforming great ideas into big advancements.

MD Anderson’s Duncan Family Institute for Cancer Prevention and Risk Assessment provides this same type of early support to scientists, researchers and clinicians across the institution to launch innovative cancer prevention research projects.

“The institute created its seed-funding program to fill a gap in resources, providing prevention researchers funds to develop new ideas,” says Jennifer Tektiridis, the institute’s executive director.

Through its Seed-funding Research Program, investigators receive support to advance their research ideas and gather preliminary data. This funding helps them compete for additional grants from outside funding sources such as the National Institutes of Health.

With an initial $35 million gift from the Duncan Family Foundation, the institute has backed scientists who are discovering ways to gauge cancer risk and developing strategies to prevent the disease.

Since 2008, the institute has awarded 30 seed grants, and six investigators have gone on to earn additional grant funding.

Researcher Kenneth Tsai, M.D., Ph.D., received a $75,000 seed-fund grant in 2011 for his proposal to examine the development of skin cancer at the genetic level.

His work earned him the Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Award for Cancer Prevention Research, which provides an additional $100,000 to support his research.

“Dr. Tsai is a good example of how funding provided by the institute serves as the seed to grow ideas into new knowledge with the potential to lower a person’s risk for cancer,” Tektiridis says.

Today’s ideas, tomorrow’s advancements:

Since 2008, the Seed-funding Research Program has …

  • Received 162 submissions
  • Awarded 30 grants to MD Anderson investigators
  • 19 winners from the Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences division
  • 11 from outside the division
  • 2013’s awards each provided $50,000 per year for two years for a total of $100,000
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