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OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center Researcher Awarded Department of Defense Grant to Research Cancer Metastasis


OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center Researcher Awarded Department of Defense Grant to Research Cancer Metastasis

August 4, 2023

OKLAHOMA CITY — The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded a $1.78 million grant to a researcher at the OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma. The grant is to study the process of cancer metastasis, which is currently affecting more than 620,000 Americans, according to the National Cancer Institute.

The four-year grant was awarded to Natarajan Aravindan, Ph.D., who is an associate professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology in the OU College of Medicine and a researcher at OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center.

Cancer metastasis — the spread of cancer cells from the place where they first formed to another part of the body — is the primary cause of death for more than 90% of people with cancer, not the original tumor. Because active-duty members of the military may face a higher risk for some types of cancer as compared to the general U.S. population, the Department of Defense funds efforts to discover new methods of stopping the progression of cancer.

In this study, Aravindan will focus on the metastatic process of neuroblastoma, glioblastoma, endometrial, bladder, colon, thyroid, and head and neck cancers. His research focuses on a protein called retinal degeneration 3 (RD3), which scientists previously thought only existed in the eye. Aravindan’s research team was the first in the world to demonstrate that RD3 is produced in all human tissues. However, some types of cancer cells lack RD3, and it is that absence that appears to drive metastasis and make cancer resistant to treatment. Restoring RD3 to cancer cells could improve patients’ survival.

Aravindan will use the new grant to further understand how RD3 loss allows cancer to progress, and he will test the effectiveness of delivering RD3 into the tumor by itself and in combination with existing cancer treatments.

“The research is not only going to benefit the military by decreasing the impact of cancer on active-duty service members, their families and veterans, but potentially benefits all cancer patients,” Aravindan said.

Aravindan’s grant is called an Impact Award and is awarded through the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs of the Department of Defense.

OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center

OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center is Oklahoma’s only National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Center. Stephenson Cancer Center is one of the nation’s elite centers, representing the top 2% of cancer centers in the country. It is the largest and most comprehensive oncology practice in the state, delivering patient-centered, multidisciplinary care for every type of cancer. As one of the nation’s leading research organizations, Stephenson Cancer Center uses the latest innovations to fight and eliminate cancer, and is currently ranked No. 1 among all cancer centers in the nation for the number of patients participating in clinical trials sponsored by the NCI’s National Clinical Trials Network. For more information, visit

OU Health Sciences Center

The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center is one of the nation’s few academic health centers with all health professions colleges — Allied Health, Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Public Health, Graduate Studies and School of Community Medicine. The OU Health Sciences Center serves approximately 4,000 students in more than 70 undergraduate and graduate degree programs on campuses in Oklahoma City and Tulsa and is the academic and research partner of OU Health, the state’s only comprehensive academic health care system. The OU Health Sciences Center is ranked 108 out of over 2,900 institutions in funding received from the National Institutes of Health, according to the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research. For more information, visit

About the University of Oklahoma

Founded in 1890, the University of Oklahoma is a public research university located in Norman, Oklahoma. OU serves the educational, cultural, economic and health care needs of the state, region and nation. For more information visit