Kandy Velázquez, Ph.D., has received a Pathway to Independence Award (K99R00) from the National Institutes of Health to study how a traditional herbal compound may help curb pain in cancer patients.
Velázquez, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology, will receive $963,225 over the next five years for her project titled, The Effects of Ojeok-san on Neuro-Immune Interactions in Cancer-Induced Visceral Pain. Velazquez is only the second researcher at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine to receive this prestigious award.
The Pathways to Independence Award is designed to facilitate a timely transition from a mentored postdoctoral research position to a stable independent research position. Velázquez will work with four faculty mentors over the course of the grant:
- Angela Murphy, Ph.D, University of South Carolina School of Medicine, associate professor in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology and Velázquez’s postdoc advisor
- Mitzi Nagarkatti, Ph.D, University of South Carolina School of Medicine, chair of the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology and SmartState Endowed Chair of Center for Cancer Drug Discovery
- Daping Fan, Ph.D, University of South Carolina School of Medicine, associate professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy
- Richard Johnson, Ph.D, University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, professor in the Department of Physiological Sciences
“All of us bring unique experience in different areas. Our role in the next two years will be to make sure Kandy gets the training that she needs in those areas. The goal is that after two years, she’ll be ready to start her own independent program,” said Murphy.
Velázquez says, “My mentors are great. I’m pretty sure the fact that we had expertise in a lot of the different aspects of my research was one of the principle reasons that the NIH decided to give me the grant. All the professors bring a unique background to the table.”
Velázquez also will work closely with a team from South Korea that has done previous studies on Ojeok-san. First, Velázquez will spend four months at the University of Florida learning the proper techniques for measuring pain responses. Upon her return she’ll begin collecting data. She hopes to eventually pursue a clinical study with humans.
“For most of the cancer patients, what they receive for pain is opioids. We know the opioid epidemic that we have is a big problem. If we can show Ojeok-san works well to inhibit pain in cancer patients, then we can avoid the adverse effects that opioids have,” says Velázquez.
Velázquez, who is originally from Puerto Rico, says she first became interested in studying cancer and pain after her aunt died from breast cancer at the age of 52. She followed her interest to the University of South Carolina after meeting Dr. Marlene Wilson, chair of the Department of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience at the USC School of Medicine, at The International Behavioral Neuroscience conference in British Columbia, Canada.
She earned her PhD in Exercise Science-Applied Physiology from the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health under the mentorship of Dr. James A. Carson in 2012, and has worked in Murphy’s lab since 2013.