The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) has awarded a transformative grant to the Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo designed to bring to the school's growing faculty one of the world's leading cellular and molecular biologists.
The $1.4 million grant will allow Klementina Fon Tacer, a postdoctoral researcher at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, since 2016, to join the veterinary school faculty. Supported by this award, Fon Tacer will investigate the novel mechanisms that protect mammalian germ cells against stress and how those mechanisms are co-opted in cancer, with the ultimate goal of advancing cancer treatment and fertility preservation of childhood cancer survivors.
The hope is Fon Tacer's research will establish a strong foundation for a comparative oncology research center in the School of Veterinary Medicine.
"What we do and why we do it is simple. We are here to benefit Texas and Texans," said Guy Loneragan, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine. "Dr. Fon Tacer is going to change lives for generations to come. When we first had the chance to meet her, it was clear. Her research is transformative and will impact countless Texans in the years ahead. I am so thankful to the CPRIT Oversight Committee for awarding Texas Tech this recruitment award to make it possible to bring Dr. Fon Tacer to Texas and to the School of Veterinary Medicine. Her work in comparative oncology will save lives."
The Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Award, one of seven awarded by CPRIT this week and part of 13 academic research recruitment and product development awards totaling $56 million, is the first CPRIT grant awarded to the School of Veterinary Medicine, which is scheduled to open its doors to students for the first time in the fall of 2021.
Fon Tacer earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) and Doctor of Philosophy in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia. She also holds a Master of Science in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the University of Ljubljana.
Fon Tacer is not new to Texas, having served as a postdoctoral researcher and Fulbright Fellow at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas from 2006-2008. From there, she returned to the University of Ljubljana as a postdoctoral researcher and later as an adjunct assistant professor on the veterinary faculty at the University of Ljubljana until 2012.
Among her research interests at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital are melanoma antigen genes (MAGE), very common cancer immunotherapy targets and their role in cancer reproduction, metabolism and stress response.
"We are very excited to have support from CPRIT for building the faculty of our new School of Veterinary Medicine," said Joseph Heppert, vice president of the Office of Research & Innovation. "One-health research themes developed by faculty like Dr. Fon Tacer will have enormous benefits for both human and animal health. The Texas Tech University System has strong potential for collaboration in one-health research across the Texas Tech and Texas Tech University Health Science Center campuses, and we are extremely proud to be adding new faculty who will capitalize on these opportunities."
Thanks to the generosity of Amarillo and communities across Texas, and the commitment of legislators from around the state, the Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo, established in 2018, is working to enroll its first class in the fall of 2021, pending approval by the AVMA Council on Education.
The School of Veterinary Medicine will recruit and select students with a passion to practice and succeed in rural and regional communities. Its curriculum is focused on the competencies and skills necessary for success in practices that support these communities. Texas Tech's innovative and cost-efficient model partners with the wider community of veterinary practices across the state to provide clinical, real-world experiential learning.
In June 2019, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law the biennial state budget, which appropriated $17.35 million for the School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo that will go toward operational needs in order to get the school up and running. The appropriation included language directing Texas Tech to move forward in establishing the school.
To date, CPRIT has awarded $2.5 billion in grants to Texas research institutions and organizations through its academic research, prevention, and product development research programs. CPRIT has recruited 202 distinguished researchers, supported the establishment, expansion or relocation of 41 companies to Texas, and generated over $4.8 billion in additional public and private investment. CPRIT funding has advanced scientific and clinical knowledge and provided 6.5 million life-saving cancer prevention and early detection services reaching Texans from all 254 counties. On November 5, 2019, Texas voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to provide an additional $3 billion to CPRIT for a total $6 billion investment in cancer research and prevention.