NEWS | November 18, 2015

Lam receives $4 million in NIH grants for novel cancer research


Kit Lam, professor and chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, has been awarded two major, multi-disciplinary U01 grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the first to investigate use of a new tool to visualize cancer tumor growth and response to nanoparticle drugs, and the other to develop a new 4-D imaging tool to advance the understanding of how the nucleus functions in living cells.

Kit Lam Kit Lam

The first, a 5-year, nearly $3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, combines Lam’s nanoparticle technology with the non-invasive ocular imaging technology of the “EyePod” Laboratory, which was developed with funding from the UC Davis Research Investments in Science & Engineering (RISE) program by Edward Pugh, UC Davis professor of the Department of Cell Biology and Human Anatomy, and Robert Zawadski, assistant research professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences.

Using a mouse model, the research team will examine how tumors develop from a limited number of implanted tumor cells and how tumor blood vessels form, as well as how nanoparticle drugs travel to tumors and how tumors respond to the drugs and other cancer-killing methods. The research involves implantation of human tumor tissue behind the retinas of mouse eyes, then injection of nanoparticles – encapsulated, minute amounts of drug – that can be visualized in real time as they travel through blood vessels and to the tumor site, using Pugh’s “Eye-Pod” technology.

“This intra-vital microscopy technique is designed to use the mouse eye as a window to study how the tumor is formed, how the nanoparticle gets to the tumor, how it moves within the tumor and how it kills tumor cells,” said Lam.

Lam noted that the mice used for the research are alive and only anesthetized during examination with the EyePod.  At the end of the experiments, Holland Cheng, professor in the College of Biological Sciences, will use cryo-electron microscopy to visualize the nanoparticle drugs within the tumor microenvironment at a super-high resolution.

Edward Pugh
Edward Pugh

Lam’s second grant, a 3-year, $1 million project, will be used to develop novel, genetically encoded fluorescent probes capable of tracking the location and function of histone proteins inside the nucleus. This 4-D imaging technology allows researchers to see how the cell nucleus works. Cancers can develop when the interaction of histones with DNA goes awry.

Other researchers involved in this second project include Cheng, Yoshihiro Izumiya of the Department of Dermatology, and Lin Tian and Frank Chuang of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine.

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center
UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated center serving the Central Valley and inland Northern California, a region of more than 6 million people. Its specialists provide compassionate, comprehensive care for more than 10,000 adults and children every year, and access to more than 150 clinical trials at any given time. Its innovative research program engages more than 280 scientists at UC Davis, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Jackson Laboratory (JAX West), whose scientific partnerships advance discovery of new tools to diagnose and treat cancer. Through the Cancer Care Network, UC Davis collaborates with a number of hospitals and clinical centers throughout the Central Valley and Northern California regions to offer the latest cancer care. Its community-based outreach and education programs address disparities in cancer outcomes across diverse populations. For more information, visit