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NIH Award to Research How Key Protein Transport Mechanism Goes Awry in Cancer

Dr. Justin Taylor will receive a total of $1.92 million to support his work on XPO1 in cancer.

Headshot of Dr. Justin Taylor
Justin Taylor, M.D.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) awarded Justin Taylor, M.D., a researcher at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, a five-year grant totaling $1.92 million for his work to better define the role of XPO1 (Exportin-1) in cancer. XPO1 is a nuclear export protein shown to play a role in many cancer types, including solid tumors and blood cancers.

NIGMS is the arm of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that supports basic research aimed at increasing the understanding of biological processes and laying the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention.​ Dr. Taylor received the NIGMS’s Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA), an R35 grant that supports research in investigators’ laboratories, providing them with greater stability and flexibility to enhance scientific productivity and the chances for important breakthroughs.

Implications of XPO1

“As a physician-scientist, I am continuously thinking about how my scientific research could be applied to patient care,” said Dr. Taylor, a member of the Translational and Clinical Oncology Program at Sylvester and assistant professor of hematology at the Miller School. “As the main transporter of cargo out of the nucleus, the cell’s command center, XPO1 affects many important cellular functions and has far-reaching implications for many diseases.”

Cancer hijacks this export process to keep cancerous cells alive, according to Dr. Taylor.

“Blocking XPO1 with anti-cancer therapies causes these cells to die. A major focus of our research is to find safe and effective ways to block XPO1,” he said.

Many cancer centers are conducting clinical trials with XPO1 inhibitors. The FDA has approved one of these drugs, selinexor, for use in multiple myeloma and diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

“However, only a few laboratories around the world study XPO1 functions,” Dr. Taylor said. “We are unique in studying how XPO1 can be targeted in the blood cancers myelodysplastic syndromes and acute myeloid leukemia. Sylvester’s cutting-edge research infrastructure, including sequencing technologies and data analysis, will help us to make exciting new discoveries.”

Combined Drug Treatment

Among those potential discoveries, Dr. Taylor’s lab is collaborating with Sylvester colleagues specializing in multiple myeloma, to evaluate a novel combination of selinexor with a new drug called venetoclax — a combination therapy that was first tested in Dr. Taylor’s lab in a phase 2 study.

While traditional funding mechanisms might support further study of single projects, the MIRA grant is funding Dr. Taylor’s laboratory research portfolio. The grant recognizes that funding a researcher’s portfolio of projects leads investigators to “think outside the box,” Dr. Taylor said.

Dr. Taylor was also previously awarded a five-year K08 grant for work on XP01 from the National Cancer Institute, which gives him continuous NIH funding for a decade.

This is important because the role of XPO1 in RNA export has not been thoroughly studied.

“We have the potential to make discoveries that could impact the treatment of many diseases, including cancer,” Dr. Taylor said. 

Tags: Dr. Justin Taylor, NIH funding, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, Translational and Clinical Oncology Research Program