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UCO Professor Wei Chen Awarded National Institutes of Health Grant for Groundbreaking Cancer Research

Headshot of UCO College of Mathematics and Science Dean Wei Chen, Ph.D.

Aug. 30, 2017

Media Contact: Sarah Neese, Communications and Marketing Coordinator, UCO University Communications, 405-974-2121, sneese@uco.edu

UCO Professor Wei Chen Awarded National Institutes of Health Grant for Groundbreaking Cancer Research

For more than two decades, Wei Chen, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering and dean of the College of Mathematics and Science at the University of Central Oklahoma, has dedicated his time and research to developing a new type of cancer treatment to treat late-stage, metastatic cancers. Those efforts recently got a big boost, as Chen received the first and only National Institutes of Health (NIH) Research Project Grant (R01) awarded to a non-research institution in the state of Oklahoma.

The NIH, specifically through its National Cancer Institute, awarded Chen a five-year R01 grant, totaling $1,374,355, to support the continuation of his long-term work on his unique cancer treatment method, laser immunotherapy (LIT).

LIT uses the combination of local laser irradiation and the local administration of an immunological stimulant to treat tumors. This induces system-wide, anti-tumor responses within the immune system. According to preliminary results from pre-clinical studies and clinical trials, LIT could be used to both destroy local tumors and eliminate untreated metastases in other areas of the body, potentially providing effective therapy for patients facing severely limited options. Additionally, Chen and his collaborators have progressed LIT into a potential bedside clinical tool, with future testing for melanoma and breast cancer patients.

R01 grants are the most sought-after grants among biomedical researchers, with the majority awarded to research-intensive institutions. Additionally, the National Cancer Institute of NIH exclusively funds cancer-related research, making its grants the most competitive, with the lowest funding rates, among all NIH institutes.

As a result of Chen’s hard work and innovative research, UCO is the only non-research institution in Oklahoma to receive NIH R01 funding, elevating the cancer research at Central to the national competitive level.

“I am thrilled about this NIH grant. I have been working on the development of cancer laser immunotherapy for more than 20 years, and this grant will enable my group to move our research to a new level,” Chen said.

In addition to working with various collaborators, Chen has included many Central students in the research process, providing an overall transformative and hands-on learning environment, while continuing to work toward the completion of a life-saving treatment.

“It is my professional, as well as my personal, dream to develop an effective therapy for late-stage, metastatic cancer patients, who are facing severely limited options,” Chen said.

“I have been fortunate to witness some promising outcomes of laser immunotherapy in our preliminary clinical trials. Saving lives and reducing cancer patients’ pain and suffering truly has been a transformative learning experience for me.”

Chen joined UCO as a professor in 1999 and led efforts to establish Central’s undergraduate biomedical engineering program the following year, making UCO the first and only university at the time to offer the program in Oklahoma. In 2008, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and the Carnegie Center named Chen as U.S. Professor of the Year, followed in 2011 by a Medal for Excellence in Teaching by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, a 2011-12 U.S. Fulbright Scholarship and the International Society for Optical Engineering Educator Award in 2012. In addition to serving as both a professor and the dean of the College of Mathematics and Science, Chen has directed numerous students in independent studies, projects, research and internships, as well as published more than 100 refereed articles and received multiple U.S. and international patents.

For more information about the National Cancer Institute, visit www.cancer.gov.

For more information about UCO’s College of Mathematics and Science, visit cms.uco.edu.

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Editor’s Note: Download art associated with this release at https://media.uco.edu/press/uploads/2017/08/chen-wei.jpg.

Cutline: The National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health recently awarded Wei Chen, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering and dean of the College of Mathematics and Science at the University of Central Oklahoma, with a five-year Research Project Grant (R01), totaling $1,374,355, to support the continuation of his long-term work on his unique cancer treatment method, laser immunotherapy.