Friday, July 9, 2021

By News and Internal Communications

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – The UTRGV School of Medicine was recently awarded a $1.45 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support its goal of developing a treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer.

Dr. Bilal Bin Hafeez, principal investigator and assistant professor in the   Department of Immunology and Microbiology  at the UTRGV School of Medicine,  received  the grant for his research proposal – “Targeting ribosome biogenesis and desmoplastic tumor microenvironment for the treatment of advanced pancreatic cancer.”

The focus of Hafeez's research is to identify new molecular targets which can be rationally used for developing new strategies for the prevention and treatment of advanced solid tumors, specifically prostate and pancreatic cancer. In addition, the goal of the research is to develop new genetically engineered mouse models of cancer and identify small new molecules and drugs that have the potential for improving checkpoint blockade immunotherapy in less responsive tumors.   

“The goal of this research is to ultimately develop a treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer," said Hafeez. “Our findings will contribute to a more thorough understanding of how the process of ribosome biogenesis plays a pivotal role in pancreatic cancer development in the human body.”    

Dr. Parwinder Grewal, executive vice president for Research and New Program Development at UTRGV, said the grant will go a long way in helping fight this disease.

“We are very excited about this new NIH grant that will allow Dr. Hafeez to develop new treatments for this deadly disease,” said Grewal.

The work of Hafeez and his research team will exclusively make use of the competitive grant award for pancreatic cancer research. His research team includes  Paola Ibarra, biomedical sciences major and undergraduate research assistant/lab technician from Rio Grande City; Carlos Perez, biochemistry and molecular biology major and graduate assistant from Harlingen; Asif Shahriar, master’s student in biochemistry and molecular biology and graduate research assistant from Edinburg; Emmanuel Anning, Pharm.D.  graduate  and graduate research assistant from Ghana, West Africa; and Saba Suleman, third-year medical student and graduate research assistant from Brownsville.

Dr. Subhash C. Chauhan, department chair, professor, and director of the Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, said the research will help shed light on the pathogenesis of pancreatic cancer, which is the most lethal disease with a very poor prognosis and survival rate.  

“The Department of Immunology and Microbiology is fully committed to cancer research enhancement in Rio Grande Valley,” said Chauhan. “The successful completion of this research will have an important impact on reducing mortality in human pancreatic cancer patients and set a strong foundation to develop a new research direction at UTRGV.”  

Hafeez extended his gratitude to department colleagues and research collaborators Dr. Subhash Chauhan, Dr. Murali Yallapu, Dr. Meena Jaggi, Dr. Sheema Khan, Dr. Manish Tripathi, Dr. Dae Joon Kim, and Dr. Tamer Oraby (co-investigator). He also thanked his national and international collaborators – Dr. Brendan Frett, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; Dr. Adeel Ahmad, West Virginia University; Dr. Manu M. Sebastian, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; and Dr. Absarul Haque, King Abdulaziz University Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – who are actively supporting his research.



Hafeez is the founding member of the first nationally recognized South Texas Center of Excellence in Cancer Immunology at the UTRGV School of Medicine and is an accomplished researcher with a background in immunopharmacology, cancer therapeutics and cancer biology. Hafeez, a Nehtaur, Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh, India native, has earned prestigious grant awards and is an active member of the American Association for Cancer Research and the Indian Association for Cancer Research. His significant contributions to cancer biology and molecular therapeutics have led to his numerous published manuscripts in scientific journals.  

Emmanuel Anning, Godwin Peasah-Darkwah and Asif Shahriar
Graduate research assistants Emmanuel Anning, Godwin Peasah-Darkwah and Asif Shahriar work in the lab to assist in the development of a treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer. (UTRGV Photo Office of Research & New Program Development)


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.