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First-Ever PNC Foundation Innovation Award Given To Fund Pivotal Brain Cancer Study

PITTSBURGH, October 31, 2001 — At the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute’s (UPCI) Leadership Dinner last night, two researchers were announced as winners of the first PNC Foundation Innovation Award to support novel research projects.

The researchers, Shi-Yuan Cheng, Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology and Xiao Xiao, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular genetics and biochemistry, both at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, received the award for their research study on the use of gene therapy in treating brain cancer that promises to advance knowledge about the prevention and treatment of this type of cancer.

“We are grateful for this generous gift of $40,000 from the PNC Foundation,” said Ronald B. Herberman, M.D., director of UPCI and associate vice chancellor for research, health sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. “This award will help fund a pivotal study that will allow us to expand our current knowledge about brain cancer – a disease that will be newly diagnosed in over 17,000 people in the United States this year alone and for which there is an urgent need to improve the efficacy of treatment.”

“PNC is delighted to present this award to Drs. Cheng and Xiao. Their research on gene therapy represents a promising strategy that can bring us closer to providing hope and comfort to the thousands of patients confronting brain cancer,” said Sy Holzer, president, PNC Bank, Pittsburgh, and chairman of the UPCI Council. “If this type of gene therapy is successful in the laboratory, we will be closer to finding an effective treatment.”

In their research study, Drs. Cheng and Xiao focus on the treatment of the most common type of primary brain cancer tumors, called gliomas. Gliomas are highly lethal and difficult to treat successfully, with most patients suffering from tumor recurrence. Drs. Cheng and Xiao have designed a unique treatment approach that seeks to destroy brain cancer by introducing genes into cells to block the development of blood vessels that nourish tumor growth or to promote the self-destruction of tumor cells. The researchers have converted a virus, called the adeno-associated virus (AAV), into a vector, or shuttle, to transport such cancer-fighting genes into the body. Once transported into a cell, the genes stimulate the production of therapeutic proteins that block tumor growth.

Previous research conducted by Drs. Cheng and Xiao using AAV resulted in a gene therapy approach that prevented the growth of human brain tumors implanted in mice. The researchers constructed an AAV vector that expresses the gene for angiostatin, a therapeutic protein, and injected the AAV-angiostatin gene into mice before they were implanted with human brain tumors. The gene therapy successfully blocked the development of blood vessels to the implanted tumors, preventing them from growing. In the current study, the researchers will be examining whether this approach is effective in treating an already existing brain cancer. They will also be exploring which particular genes or gene combinations are the most successful in destroying brain cancer.

“Medical researchers are the guides to the next great discoveries,” added Mia Hallet, vice president and manager of the PNC Foundation. “Most of us will be touched by cancer at some point in our lives, and by funding this type of innovative research project, we can all benefit from their discoveries. PNC supports UPCI and Dr. Cheng and Dr. Xiao because they are making a difference in peoples’ lives and ultimately bringing us closer to finding a cure for cancer.”

The award consists of a $150,000 grant to be divided over the next three years to fund a different individual investigator or team of investigators at UPCI each year. The grant continues PNC’s ongoing support for research at UPCI. In 1999, a five-year grant established the PNC Molecular Oncology Laboratory at the Hillman Cancer Center, slated to open in summer 2002.

About UPCI

Established in 1984, UPCI is actively committed to providing innovative cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment; state-of-the art bio-medical research; compassionate patient care and support; and community outreach services. UPCI is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in western Pennsylvania. UPCI investigators are world-renowned for their work in clinical and basic cancer research

About PNC

The PNC Foundation ranks among the largest corporate foundations in Pennsylvania. In 2000, more than $11 million in contributions by the PNC Foundation, along with almost 100,000 hours of employee volunteer time, executive leadership, and other skills and services, were combined to support non-profit entities.

The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., headquartered in Pittsburgh, is one of the nation’s largest diversified financial services organizations, providing regional banking, corporate banking, real estate, finance, asset-based lending, wealth management, asset management and global fund services.

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