Research Group Lab Hall

Funding Opportunities

Securing funding is an important part of the scientific research process. The MCW Cancer Center Grants Office offers a breadth of support designed to help Cancer Center members pursue research funding to advance cancer discoveries.

Pilot Grants

MCW Cancer Center Cycle 2 pilot awards are now available. Investigators at all career stages are invited to submit a letter of intent by September 1, 2023.

For questions, please contact

American Cancer Society Institutional Research Grant

ACS-IRG Pilot Awards support the development of exceptional cancer-related research projects for junior faculty members who are in the process of establishing independent cancer research programs. The goal of the individual ACS-IRG pilot awards is to assist junior faculty in generating preliminary data to increase their likelihood of success in obtaining extramural peer-reviewed funding. A clear plan for how the pilot data will support the development of the external funding proposal(s) is required.

Budget: $40,000 for one year

Second-year Supplement: If awarded, PIs are eligible to apply for a $20,000 supplement from the Cancer Center, which is an extension to the initial one-year award.


  • RFA Release: Aug. 1, 2023
  • LOI Due: Sept. 1, 2023
  • Application Due: Oct. 1, 2023
  • Award Begins: Jan. 1, 2024
Basic, Translational, Clinical and Population Science Idea Award

The Basic, Translational, Clinical and Population Science Idea Award provides early funding support for high-risk, high-payoff research for which external grants are difficult to obtain. Investigators with cancer-relevant research from all areas of science are invited to apply. Collaborations between basic/translational/clinical science and population science researchers who propose to study topics related to understanding or addressing cancer disparities will be given priority. Proposals that utilize MCW Cancer Center Shared Resources are encouraged.

Budget: $50,000 for one year without the option to renew


  • RFA Release: Aug. 1, 2023
  • LOI Due: Sep. 1, 2023
  • Application Due: Oct. 1, 2023
  • Award Begins: Jan. 1, 2024
Clinical Trial Concept Award

The MCW Cancer Center recognizes that Investigator-initiated Trials (IITs) represent the apex of academic cancer research innovation, as they help develop new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer and provide participating patients with access to the most advanced treatments. In line with this vision, the scope of this pilot program is to encourage and support the development of an IIT or innovative correlative studies that capitalize on an already funded trial.

Researchers proposing relevant projects from all areas of science are invited to apply to this RFA. Priority will be given to multi-disciplinary collaborations between clinical scientists, basic or translational scientists, and population science researchers who propose to study topics related to understanding or addressing cancer disparities. Applications that propose correlative studies, especially those that utilize MCWCC Shared Resources, are encouraged.

Budget: $150,000 for two years
  • RFA Release: Aug. 1, 2023
  • LOI Due: Sep. 1, 2023
  • Application Due: Oct. 1, 2023
  • Award Begins: Notifications of award will be made after peer review and Director’s Council approval in Dec. 2023
Our Patient Project (Phase 1 of 2)

Our Patient Project (OPP) is an important translational research element of the MCW Cancer Center-led Precision Oncology high-impact initiative that is expected to drive discovery over the next three years.

The OPP has two goals:

  • To answer a significant unanswered question in the cancer research field or address a major challenge in clinical care by fully characterizing and analyzing samples from a discrete, clinically annotated cancer patient cohort

  • To develop a rich experimental data set on patient samples annotated with high-quality clinical data that can be leveraged by the Principal Investigator, study team, and MCW Cancer Center members to foster new multi-disciplinary collaborative research projects funded through extramural sources and that will lead to novel practice-changing cancer prevention and/or therapeutics.

Budget: Up to $1,000,000 over a maximum of 4-5 years


  • LOI Due: Sep. 1, 2023
  • Application Due: Sep. 1, 2024
  • Award Begins: The start date for funding will be dependent on the status of any required human and animal studies protocol approvals, with the understanding that it will not take longer than six months post-award notice.
Wisconsin Breast Cancer Showhouse (WBCS) Award

The Wisconsin Breast Cancer Showhouse (WBCS) Award supports early-stage breast cancer and prostate cancer research. Since its founding in 1998, the WBCS has had a $97.69 million impact at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Its cumulative investment is $7.09 million to fund research awards and to endow WBCS research professorships in breast cancer research and prostate cancer research. To date, WBCS-funded researchers have leveraged their awards into a substantial ROI of $90.6 million in external research funding.

Budget: $50,000 for one year without the option to renew


  • RFA Release: Aug. 1, 2023
  • LOI Due: Sep. 1, 2023
  • Application Due: Oct. 1, 2023
  • Award Begins: Jan. 1, 2024

Past Awardees

February 2023 RFA Awardees

Kelly Rentscher, PhD, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine (Socioenvironmental Disparities and Accelerated Aging in CAR T Cell Therapy Recipients)

Fellowships (Graduate)
Omar Cortez-Toledo, (Elucidation of microenvironmental signals that contribute to pancreatic cancer metastasis); Mentor: Nikki Lytle, PhD

Viren Shah, (Computational Simulations of Network Dynamics and Response in CART Therapy); Mentor: Ranjan Dash, PhD

Casey Zoss, (Discovery and application of iron and angiogenic biomarkers in glioblastoma to optimize treatment with gallium maltolate); Mentor: Kathleen Schmainda, PhD

October 2022 RFA Awardees

M. Muska Naliansyah, PhD, MPH, Department of Surgery (Estimating Care Attrition Risk and Outcomes of Patients with Pancreatic Cancer using CMS-SEER Data Linkage)

Idea Award
Cecilia Hillard, PhD, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology (Studies of kynurenine metabolites as a link between socioenvironmental disparities and poor outcomes in CAR T therapy)

Yongxia Wu, MD, PhD, Department of Microbiology and Immunology (Fli-1 Regulates CD8 T-Cell Response for Controlling Hematological Malignances)

February 2022 RFA Awardees
Clinical Project Award
Liliana Pezzin, PhD, JD, Institute of Health and Equity (Understanding real world effects of breast cancer and its treatment on cognitive functioning: a longitudinal, nationally representative study)

Joseph Zenga, MD, Department of Otolaryngology (Investigating the SDG-1/CXCR4 pathway in clinical head and neck cancer and humanized patient-derived xenografts

Graduate Fellowship Award
Alfredo Colina, Department of Microbiology and Immunology (Biological mechanisms and immune signatures driving antitumor CAR-T cell responses in patients with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma); Mentor: Anthony Zamora, PhD

Olivia Franklin, Department of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy (Defining the role of GATA4 in esophageal diseases); Mentor: Michele Battle, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellowship Award
Jasmine George, PhD, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology (Chemoresistance mechanism orchestrated through FXR1 in ovarian cancer); Mentor: Pradeep Chaluvally-Raghavan, PhD

October 2021 RFA Awardees
Rachel Cusatis, PhD, Department of Medicine (Pilot study of the VitalPRO: a remote monitoring system of patient reported outcomes and vital signs in Chimeric antigen receptor t-cell outpatient care)

Jing Dong, PhD, Department of Medicine (Landscape of pathogenic germline variants in multiple myeloma and its precursor in African Americans)

Thomas McFall, PhD, Department of Biochemistry (Quantitative systems approach to overcoming innate resistance to KRAS G1C inhibitors in colorectal and non-small cell lung cancer)

Clinical Project Award
John Charlson, MD, Department of Medicine (Sarcoma biopsy tissue banking)

Idea Award
Jong-In Park, PhD, Department of Biochemistry (Biochemical modifications of ISCU regulated ERK1/2)

Pre-Clinical Project Award
Bing Yu, PhD, Department of Biomedical Engineering (Development of a deep-learning algorithm to enable deep-UV microscopy for intraoperative assessment of breast tumor margins.

February 2021 RFA Awardees

Sunila Pradeep, PhD (award recipient 2020- funds activated 7/2021); Title: Harnessing PD-L1 expression in ovarian cancer

John Pulikkan, PhD (award recipient 2020- funds activated 7/2021); Title: SMARCA4 as a novel target in Acute Myeloid Leukemia with CEBPA mutations

Clinical Concept Award
Jennifer Connelly, MD / Christopher Chitambar, MD; A Phase 1 Clinical Trial of Oral Gallium Maltolate for the Treatment of Relapsed or Refractory Glioblastoma

GSPMC/CC NGS Based Award
Weiguo Cui, PhD / Tyce Kearl, MD, PhD; Epigenetic Regulation of the Anti-Tumor Efficacy of Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T cell Therapy

Daochun Sun, PhD; A comprehensive transcriptome comparison study on metastatic MPNST mouse models'

Callisia Clarke, MD; Elucidating the Epigenetic Landscape of Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors

Hui-Zi Chen, PhD; Transcriptomic characterization of small cell lung cancer subtypes: a step closer towards precision therapy.

Why apply for a pilot award?

The Cancer Center’s pilot funding opportunities are a direct investment in the MCW faculty and programs that will drive cancer discoveries.
Zenga Himburg Lab

Pilot awards are instrumental in catalyzing cancer research because they support investigators to:

  • Explore novel ideas and approaches that may not have been fully investigated due to limited resources.
  • Collect preliminary data providing evidence of progress and potential success.
  • Identify potential challenges at an early stage to prevent similar issues during larger-scale research and implementation.
  • Increase collaboration and encourage partnerships among researchers, institutions, and experts in different fields.
  • Gain valuable feedback that can be used to elevate future projects and pave the way for more comprehensive studies.
  • Secure larger funding: positive results from pilot studies can attract larger funding for further investigation.


Developing a competitive grant application takes time and effort. Applicants are encouraged to access these resources for support.

MCW Cancer Center Grants Office

The Cancer Center Grants Office can help gather, review or draft ancillary components of the application so you can devote your time to drafting the heart of the application.

Email the Grants Office

Biostatistics Shared Resource

The Biostatistics Shared Resource team works collaboratively with MCW investigators to provide analyses, computational methods, models, and algorithms.

Learn more about the Biostatistics Shared Resource

Clinical & Translational Science Institute

Learn how to prepare a successful submission by attending a Methods in Grant Preparation seminar series.

Register for a seminar

Pilot Grant Review Chairs

If you are interested in joining a pilot grant review committee or have any questions, please contact


Gustavo W. Leone, PhD

Director, Medical College of Wisconsin Cancer Center; Dr. Glenn R. and Nancy A. Linnerson Endowed Chair in Cancer Research; Senior Associate Dean of Cancer Research; Professor, Department of Biochemistry


Mehdi Hamadani, MD

Professor, Medicine (Hematology & Oncology)


Jennifer Knight, MD, MS, FACLP

Associate Professor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine and Microbiology & Immunology


Sridhar Rao, MD, PhD

Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Hematology/Oncology/Transplantation and Cell Biology, Neurobiology & Anatomy; Associate Director, Medical Scientist Training Program; Associate Investigator, Versiti Blood Research Institute


Melinda Stolley, PhD

Professor; Associate Director of Population Sciences Research


Vera Tarakanova, PhD

Professor, Microbiology & Immunology


Xue-Zhong Yu, MBA, MS, MD

Professor, Microbiology & Immunology; Associate Director of Basic Sciences in the MCW Cancer Center