Community-Funded Internal Grants Program Awards $440,000 for Hormel Institute Research Projects

The Hormel Institute is pleased to announce the awardees of The Hormel Institute’s Internal Grants program for 2023. This year, a total of $440,000 is being awarded to scientists at The Hormel Institute to support their biomedical research projects.

What makes the Internal Grants Program special is that it is entirely funded by community fundraising efforts that take place over the course of the year throughout Austin and southern Minnesota. These grants are made possible thanks to the thousands who participate in fundraisers such as Paint the Town Pink, Eagles Cancer Telethon, Karl’s Tourney/Karl Potach Foundation, Bowling for the Battle, and many others.

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“This is an exciting announcement for all of us when we get to share with the community what
they make happen,” said Gail Dennison, Director of Development and External Relations.
“Without these dollars, this research would not be possible. We congratulate the scientists and
truly thank all who work so hard and give so generously.”

Thanks to the support of The Hormel Foundation, 100% of every gift to The Hormel Institute goes toward the Internal Grants Program to directly support innovative research. Grant recipients applied for consideration, and their proposals were then reviewed and scored via an external peer review process. This year’s grant awardees include:
Paint the Town Pink Awards
● Vijay Reddy, PhD: $50,000 for "Generation of nanoparticle-based vaccines against
HER2-positive breast cancers"
● Tianshun Zhang, PhD: $50,000 for "Role of CD70 in solar UV-induced skin damage,
immune response, and photocarcinogenesis"
● Surojeet Sengupta, PhD: $50,000 for "Understanding metabolic adaptions in TCA cycle
and mitochondrial electron transport chain in endocrine therapy-resistant breast cancer"
● Luke Hoeppner, PhD: $50,000 for "Targeting primary cilia to prevent kinase inhibitor
resistance in lung cancer"
Eagles Telethon Postdoctoral Fellowships
● Auripita Shah, Ph.D., and Dong Wang: $60,000 each ($120,000 total) for team project
"Mechanism of CMTM6 regulation of colorectal liver metastasis"
● Seyedehsahar Mortazavifarsani, PhD, and Melike Ozgul-Onal, PhD:
$60,00 each ($120,000 total) for team project "Targeting mitochondrial metabolism in
CD8 T cell enhancement of anti-PD1 therapy response in melanoma and breast cancer"

These seed grants will help scientists at The Hormel Institute plant the early “seeds” of research as they gather preliminary data, which could later be used to secure future funding from additional sources to support continued progress—including federal funding agencies like the National Cancer Institute, Department of Defense, and National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Luke Hoeppner, Associate Professor at The Hormel Institute, shared that external grant funding his lab received from the Lung Cancer Research Foundation and EGFR Resisters was possible thanks to initial support from community-funded grants.

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“We are so grateful for that past community-funded pilot project [seed grant] support, and we are thrilled that it accelerated our work investigating new ways to prevent therapy-resistant lung cancer progression to the extent that we received external support to continue that impactful research,” said Dr. Hoeppner. “Similarly, we are extremely thankful and honored to be a current recipient of a community-funded Paint the Town Pink grant. Like in our previous experience, this award will help us generate key pilot findings and successfully compete for external funding.”

Officials with the Institute stated that the reason fundraisers supporting the Internal Grants Program happen at all is because of the collaboration of individuals throughout the community.  Kevin Finley, president of the Mower County Fair Board, acknowledged the time and effort of both community members and local businesses that go into making local fundraisers a success.  The fair board has helped to raise a total of more than $77,000 for cancer research.

“Just think about what all these businesses contribute and the time that individuals in the community donate to make this happen,” Finley said. “You don’t have to be a world-renowned scientist to make a difference in trying to cure cancer. You can be an individual that’s just as important [by] fundraising and trying to raise a dollar to get that ball started.”

Debbie Retterath, the 2017 Paint the Town Pink Ambassador and a breast cancer survivor, has been involved with the Greater Mower County PTTP—a group she calls “small but mighty”—since its inception in 2015. The group has raised over $125,000 for Paint the Town Pink thus far.

Ultimately, Retterath noted, an important end goal is to minimize the toll that cancer takes—on the cancer patient, but also on their loved ones watching them battle the disease.

“Every inch we make to making those treatments easier and more effective is so important.  Minimizing that human toll is so important, and so invaluable—especially when you’re the human,” Retterath said. “So many people are working hard to make sure what I went through doesn’t happen to somebody else.”

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“We are proud to be part of a community that is so supportive of our efforts to improve and extend human life,” said Dr. Robert Clarke, Executive Director. “Our community is amazingly generous, and we look forward to opportunities to continue to show our gratitude—and share the discoveries and outcomes made possible thanks to the support we receive.”

For more information about hosting a fundraising event for The Hormel Institute, please contact Daneka Wiechmann, PTTP/Events Development Associate, at 507-437-9650. For general questions about how to support The Hormel Institute’s research, please contact Brenna Gerhart, Development Admin Manager, at 507-437-9601.