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June 23, 2016

Dr. Charles P. Xavier Takes the Robert A. Phillips Award and a Navy-wide Academic Research Competition Award

by Paula Amann
Published in the June 2016 issue of Military Medical Research News, a monthly newsletter of the Department of Research Programs, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Fine-tuning facial transplants, predicting bone fractures, shrinking prostate cancers with new drugs and cutting the costs of surgical training with the right technology: These were among the problems probed by competition winners for 2016 Research and Innovation Month at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC).

The events, during Poster Display Week on May 11 and the Research Symposia on May 18-19, drew abstracts for 178 projects. After winnowing by pre-selection judges, 22 finalists emerged in three categories: case reports, evidence-based practice and quality improvement (a crucial non-research area).

Dr. Xavier Wins RAP Award Dr. Xavier Wins Award

Another 24 finalists, split evenly between laboratory and clinical research, vied for the Robert A. Phillips (RAP) and Bailey K. Ashford (BKA) Awards. The two BKA winners were LCDR Gabriel Santiago, MC (laboratory medicine), and LT Scott Wagner, MC (clinical medicine).

RAP winners included LT Daniel Griffin, MC (resident laboratory category); CPT Sarah Placek, MC (resident clinical); Charles P. Xavier, Ph.D. (staff laboratory); and Benjamin Sheffield (staff clinical).

As for Xavier, he walked away with a Navy-wide Academic Research Competition award for his contribution to a team project in precision medicine, with a focus on ERGi-USU, a small molecule that shows promise for treating prostate and related cancers. His research problem starts with ERG, a protein that normally helps  regulate hematopoiesis, the formation of blood cell components.

"The same protein, when it gets truncated, becomes an oncogene, which translates into oncoprotein," and leads to prostate cancer, Xavier said in a phone interview. Enter ERGi-USU, which has worked in vitro and in vivo to shrink ERG-positive tumors, such as those in laboratory mice, by as much as 65 percent - without detectable side effects.

"The good thing is that it's really effective with cancer cells, but doesn't affect normal [endothelial] cells," said Xavier of ERGi-USU.

The prize winner is a translational research fellow at the John P. Murtha Cancer Center and senior researcher at the Center for Prostate Disease Research (CPDR) with the  Surgery Department at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS).

Shiv Srivastava, Ph.D., CPDR codirector and USUHS surgery professor, cites Xavier's commitment. "He's been extremely dedicated to his work," Srivastava said. "He brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the project." Next, the team will be developing a more potent ERGi-USU before considering human trials. "This will help us not only to develop strategies to inhibit prostate cancer, but also other cancers with similar gene defects," Srivastava said.