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Austin-based organizations fuel funding for Hormel Institute cancer research

In its latest internal grant cycle, the Hormel Institute in Austin awarded $540,000 in research grants. The funds came from community fundraising efforts.

Hormel Institute
The Hormel Institute in Austin, Minn.
Post Bulletin file photo
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AUSTIN — Last week, The Hormel Institute in Austin, Minn. announced that it recently awarded $540,000 in grants to its scientists to start new cancer research projects. The grants were entirely funded by the fundraising efforts of four Austin-area initiatives.

According to a press release from the institute, eight different internal projects received seed funding to start researching specific topics related to breast, kidney and prostate cancers.

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"It truly does enable us to do work that we wouldn't otherwise have the support or the funding to start or accomplish," said Luke Hoeppner, assistant professor and cancer biology section leader at The Hormel Institute. "The data that we generate using the generous funds from the prostate cancer research award or other internal rewards that my colleagues have received can then be used to generate preliminary data that's key for larger grant applications."

Hoeppner received the Prostate Cancer Research Award, which will kickstart prostate cancer research in his lab.

"We're interested in an important protein called DARPP-32," Hoeppner said. "It's typically only expressed in the human brain, but DARPP-32 becomes abnormally expressed in tumors, including prostate cancer. So, the proposed research seeks to understand how overexpression of DARPP-32 in prostate tumors contributes to cancer progression."

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In previous projects, Hoeppner said he and other scientists have studied DARPP-32 in relation to other types of cancers, but no one has extensively looked at DARPP-32 and prostate cancer.

"It was a good candidate for this prostate cancer internal grant award because it was an area related to prostate cancer that I've always been interested in but really haven't ever had the funds or opportunity to study it."

He said he hopes the research can lead to better treatments and outcomes for prostate cancer patients.

The Hormel Institute's 2022 Internal Grant Recipients
Karl R. Potach Foundation Research Award
● “Identification of potential target genes in Wilms' tumor progression" Qiushi Wang, PhD

Prostate Cancer Research Award
● "New molecular regulation of prostate cancer progression" Luke Hoeppner, PhD

Paint the Town Pink Awards
● "Gut microbiota as a mediator of increased breast cancer risk" Leena Hilakivi-Clarke, PhD
● “Targeting ALKBH5 RNA demethylase to inhibit activation of hepatic stellate cells into tumor-promoting myofibroblasts" Ningling Kang, PhD
● “Investigating nucleocytoplasmic transport pathway for therapy in glioblastoma" Gasper Kitange, PhD
● “Histone methylation and chromosome instability in DIPG" James Robinson, PhD

Eagles Cancer Telethon Postdoctoral Fellowships
● “Targeted inhibition of MDR1 in cancer therapy" Devanshu Kurre, PhD and FNU Nandini, PhD
● “Epigenetic regulation of TXNIP-dependent pro-oxidant signaling in breast cancer growth and progression" Jasvinder Singh, PhD and Anil Yadav, PhD

The funds for Hoeppner's grant came from Bowling for the Battle, an annual bowling tournament in Austin that donates all of its proceeds to The Hormel Institute. Tom Gillard, co-founder of Bowling for the Battle, said this year's tournament in March generated $51,000 for the institute.

"We sell out the tournament every year — 160 bowlers," said Gillard. "We have a waiting list to get in, normally."

Gillard help start the tournament 11 years ago with the goal of donating money to March of Dimes (back then, it was called Bowling for Babies). But three years later, Gillard was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

"I said, 'You know, we've given March of Dimes a fair bit of money,' so I said, 'What I'd like to do is change the people that get the money and the charity and give it to The Hormel Institute for prostate cancer research," Gillard said.

In its first year benefiting prostate cancer research, Bowling for the Battle raised $26,000. Over eight years, the tournament has brought in $350,000 for the cause.

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With his personal connection to prostate cancer, Gillard said it's encouraging to see people researching the disease. On Hoeppner's end, he said he's humbled and honored by the community's support for his work.

"It makes what I do on a day-to-day basis, and what our lab does on a day-to-day basis, feel valuable because the community's behind us," Hoeppner said. "It really means a lot to everybody at the institute, and I'm sure it's also important to those who have family members and friends who've been afflicted by cancer."

The other three organizations that raised funds for these internal grants are Paint the Town Pink, the Karl R. Potach Foundation and the Eagles Cancer Telethon.

Dené K. Dryden is the Post Bulletin's region reporter, covering the greater Rochester area. Before joining the Post Bulletin in 2022, she attended Kansas State University and served as an editor for the student newspaper, the Kansas State Collegian, and news director for Wildcat 91.9, K-State's student radio station. Readers can reach Dené at ddryden@postbulletin.com.
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