Top row, left to right: M. Taher Saif, Shannon Sirk, Kimberly Selting; Middle row: Rashid Bashir, Cecilia Leal, Jason Ridlon; Bottom row: Supriya Prasanth, Hua Li, Mohammed El-Kebir

Nine interdisciplinary projects designed by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign faculty were selected for the Cancer Center at Illinois (CCIL) annual seed grant awards.

Since launching in 2019, CCIL seed grant funding has supported interdisciplinary cancer research projects that facilitate cross-campus collaboration. Previous grant projects have led to a number of additional external funding opportunities, including a recent $1.25M NIH grant to further explore breast cancer progression.

“Due to the proven success of the CCIL Seed Grant Program, we were able to support additional initiatives in 2021 compared to previous years,” Paul Hergenrother, CCIL Deputy Director, said. “CCIL scientists are making bold discoveries and leading innovative initiatives that will create technologies and techniques that will translate from labs to clinics. The depth of science, engineering, and technology expertise at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign will transform the cancer industry for years to come.”     

The nine projects selected span multiple University of Illinois departments and faculty. They include:

Project Title: Delineating the Role of Orc6 in Genome Surveillance and Cancer Progression
Principal Investigator: Supriya Prasanth, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology
Research Team: Satish K. Nair, Department of Biochemistry

Project Title: FORce Control of Cancer Tumor μEnvironment (FORCE)
Principal Investigator: M. Taher Saif, Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering
Research Team:
 Kimberly Selting, Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine; Kannanganattu V. Prasanth, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology; Hyunjoon Kong, Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

Project Title: High-Resolution Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopic Imaging for Adaptive Glioblastoma Multiforme Patient Treatment
Principal Investigator: Hua Li, Department of Bioengineering
Research Team: Fan Lam, Department of Bioengineering; Zhi-Pei Liang, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Mark Anastasio, Department of Bioengineering; Paul Arnold, Department of Neurosurgery (Carle Foundation Hospital); Daniel Barnett, Carle Cancer Institute

Project Title: Lipid Droplet Packing: A New Target to Interfere with the Progress of Human Hepatocellular Carcinoma
Principal Investigator: Cecilia Leal, Department of Materials Science & Engineering
Research Team:
 Sayee Anakk, Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology

Project Title: Multi-shape 3D Hanging Drop Array for Cancer Drug-screening
Principal Investigator: Rashid Bashir, Department of Bioengineering
Research Team: Panagiotis Z. Anastasiadis, Department of Cancer Biology (Mayo Clinic – Jacksonville, FL); George Vasmatzis, Department of Molecular Medicine (Mayo Clinic – Rochester, MN); Andrew Smith, Department of Bioengineering; Joon Kong, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; Jie Chen, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology

Project Title: Quantitative Ultrasound for Detection of Lymph Node Metastasis from Oral Melanoma & to Document Tumor Response to Stereotactic Radiosurgery in Dogs as a Large Animal Model of Metastatic Cancer
Principal Investigator: Kimberly Selting, Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine
Research Team:
 Audrey Billhymer, Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine; Michael Oelze, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Rita Miller, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Project Title: Stable Therapeutic Antibody Expression for Cancer Immunotherapy by Liver-directed Gene Editing
Principal Investigator: Shannon Sirk, Department of Bioengineering
Research Team: Thomas Gaj, Department of Bioengineering; Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition; Pablo Perez-Pinera, Department of Bioengineering

Project Title: Workflows and Tools for Visualizing Tumor Phylogenies in Metastatic Breast Cancer
Principal Investigator: Mohammed El-Kebir, Department of Computer Science
Research Team:
 Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition; Charles Blatti, National Center for Supercomputing Applications; Colleen Bushell, National Center for Supercomputing Applications; Lisa Gatzke, National Center for Supercomputing Applications; Matthew Berry, National Center for Supercomputing Applications

Project Title: The Role of the Urinary Sterolbiome in Prostate Cancer Risk
Principal Investigator: Jason Ridlon, Department of Animal Sciences
Research Team:
H. Rex Gaskins, Department of Animal Sciences; Joseph Irudayaraj, Department of Bioengineering; John Erdman, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

Submitted proposals must demonstrate an ability to foster collaborations across the engineering-biology continuum and leverage research results for future external grants in cancer research. Funds are distributed over two years, beginning in 2021.

Media contact: Jordan Goebig, Communications Coordinator,