Press Release

October 26, 2005



Researchers receive Penny Severns Breast, Cervical and
Ovarian Cancer
Research Fund Grants

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – As Breast Cancer Awareness Month winds down, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine researchers’ work continues. Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director awarded Penny Severns Breast, Cervical and Ovarian Cancer Research Fund grant money to SIU researchers today for their efforts in advancing cancer research.

Earlier this month, the First Lady of Illinois, Patti Blagojevich announced the Penny Severns research grants totaling $700,000. The grants are generated from donations, an income tax check off and state general revenue funds dedicated to research. SIU School of Medicine researchers, Dr. Sophia Ran and Dr. Laura Murphy are two of 14 Illinois grant recipients committed to conducting breast, cervical and ovarian cancer research to further their research efforts in the areas of prevention, treatment and finding a cure.

“It is my honor to award this grant money to these researchers who are truly committed to making a difference in the lives of cancer patients and the advancements within the field of cancer research,” said Dr. Whitaker.

Dr. Sophia Ran received a $70,000 grant to conduct breast cancer research looking at the breast tumor response to chemotherapy treatment. Dr. Ran says treatment by chemotherapy is successful for some but not all breast cancer patients because of the ability of tumor cells to fight back and produce molecules that help cells to survive.

“ We are looking for ways to undermine the tumor’s ability to recover after therapy. If successful, this new strategy for treating cancer will drastically improve the health outcome for thousands of cancer patients who might experience recurrence of tumors after seemingly successful treatment, said Dr. Ran, an SIU Cancer Institute researcher in Springfield.

Dr. Laura Murphy, Ph. D., an SIU School of Medicine researcher in Carbondale, was awarded a $50,000 grant for breast cancer research. She will conduct a pilot project looking at the effectiveness of a ‘drug cocktail’ of ginsenosides, the active component in ginseng, in inhibiting the growth of breast cancer cells. Because the root of the ginseng plant is a common component in herbals used for cancer treatments in Asian medicine, Dr. Murphy believes the scientific study of ginseng and its ginsenosides might eventually lead to a novel natural therapy for breast cancer.

“There are over 20 different ginsenosides in the ginseng root, but only three of these exhibit anti-cancer properties,” said Dr. Murphy. By combining these three anti-cancer ginsenosides, we believe a unique ‘cocktail’ can be created that could very potently inhibit the growth of and kill breast cancer cells.”

This is the first year the Penny Severns research fund includes ovarian cancer research. Governor Rod R. Blagojevich signed House Bill 3564 this summer, which allowed ovarian cancer to be added to the fund.

The special fund was established in 1994 and renamed in 1999 to honor the late state Sen. Penny Severns of Decatur, who died from breast cancer. The special fund within the State Treasury

issues breast, cervical and ovarian cancer grants to hospitals, laboratories, educational institutions and other organizations for the purpose of cancer research. The fund consists of general revenue funds and income tax contributions, as well as donations from foundations and nonprofit organizations. Since fiscal year 1995, the Penny Severns Research Fund has financially supported 109 research projects.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women 20 years of age and older, with an estimated 9,000 women expected to be diagnosed in Illinois this year. While African-American women are not diagnosed with breast cancer as frequently as Caucasian women, the mortality rate among African Americans is 39.3 compared to 25.5 among white women.

The Illinois Breast and Cervical Program (IBCCP), administered through the Illinois Department of Public Health, is helping to fight the battle against breast cancer by providing free screenings to low income women between the ages of 35 and 64 who have no health insurance. Last year, the statewide program screened nearly 18,000 women. Women enrolled in IBCCP who are diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer may be eligible to receive free treatment benefits through the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

In 2003, Gov. Blagojevich funded the Stand Against Cancer Initiative (SAC), a community outreach and screening program targeting the hardest to reach minority women. It is conducted by a coalition of neighborhood organizations, churches and Federally Qualified Health Centers. In fiscal year 2005, SAC provided 7,500 screenings and reached more than 13,000 other women through educational programs and outreach.

Other state services and programs that are available to women include the availability of lower cost breast cancer treatment medications through I-SaveRx, the state’s discount prescription drug program. Participants can save 20-78 percent on commonly used breast cancer treatment drugs like tamoxifen, femara, aromasin and arimdex. The FamilyCare program covers mammograms, Pap tests, chemotherapy and reconstructive breast surgery following a mastectomy. Cancer research is responsible for the development of such breakthrough treatments like tamoxifen and screenings like the Pap test.

The following is a list of Penny Severns Fiscal Year 06’ grant recipients:

Principal Investigator


Project Title



William Baldyga, Dr. PhD

The University of Illinois at Chicago – Institute for Health Research and Policy


Preventing Breast and Cervical Cancer: Awareness and Education for Latinas


Steven J. Chmura, M.D., Ph.D.

The University of Chicago - Department of Radiation Oncology

Does the Use of Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy Decrease the Biological Effectiveness of Breast Cancer Treatment?


Suzanne Conzen, M.D.

The University of Chicago – Department of Medicine

Anti-Apoptotic Signaling Via the P13K/SGK-1 Pathway in Breast



Andrei Gartel, Ph.D.

The University of Illinois at Chicago - Department of Medicine

A Novel Compound that Induces Cell Death in Breast Cancer Cells



Laura Murphy, Ph.D.

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale - Department of Physiology


Combining Anti-Cancer Ginsenosides to Treat Human Breast Cancer


Sophia Ran, Ph.D.

Southern Illinois University School of Medicine - Department of Medical Microbiology, Immunology and Cell Biology

Optimizing Response of Breast Tumors to Chemotherapy



Miriam Rodin, M.D., Ph.D.

The University of Chicago – Department of Medicine

Functional Impact of Breast Cancer Treatment in Older Women



Guoxing Zheng, Ph.D.


The University of Illinois at Rockford - Department of Biomedical Sciences


T-Cell Therapeutics for Breast Cancer


Maria Barbolina, Ph.D.

Project Supervisor:
Sharon Stack Ph.D.

Northwestern University Department of Cell and Molecular Biology

Epigenetic Regulation of Ovarian Cancer Metastasis


Michael Chinander, Ph.D.

Project Supervisor:
Robert Nishikawa, Ph.D.

The University of Chicago - Department of Radiology


Observer Evaluation of a Method for Producing Simulated Mammograms


Amy Hakim, M.D.

Project Supervisor:
Serdar Bulun, M.D.

Northwestern University Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Novel Target Genes of the Progesterone in Ovarian Epithelial Cells: Link to Prevention of Ovarian Cancer


Hilary Kenny, Ph.D.
Ernst Lengyel, M.D., Ph.D

University of Chicago Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Establishment and Characterization of an Organotypic 3D Culture to Investigate Peritoneal Attachment and Invasion of Ovarian Cancer Cells


Gu Li, Ph.D.

Project Supervisor:
Laimonis Laimins, Ph.D.

Northwestern University - Department of Microbiology-Immunology


Phosphorylation of Host Cell Proteins in Response to High-Risk HPV Infection


Min Zou, Ph.D.

Project Supervisor:
Suzanne Conzen, M.D.

The University of Chicago – Department of Medicine

A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Uncover Breast Cancer Cell Survival Pathways


For more information on women’s health and programs visit or call
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TTY 800-547-0466
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