|Summer 2010-Research Briefs|
UAB Researchers Find Key Colorectal Cancer Biomarkers
Researchers in the UAB Department of Pathology have discovered a set of four biomarkers that will help predict which patients are more likely to develop aggressive colorectal cancer. The findings, presented at the American Association of Cancer Research annual meeting, also shed light on the genetics that cause African Americans to have worse colorectal cancer-treatment outcomes than Caucasians.
Liselle Bovell, a graduate student in the laboratory of Upender Manne, Ph.D., UAB associate professor of pathology and Comprehensive Cancer Center senior scientist, found that patients who tested positive for higher levels of a genetic biomarker called microRNA (miRNA) had increased risk of death after being treated for colorectal cancer.
New Roles for Cancer Center Leaders
The UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center has announced two leadership transitions among its senior cabinet and research programs:
James Bonner, M.D., has been named senior advisor to the director. He holds the Merle M. Salter Endowed Chair in Radiation Oncology and has chaired the Department of Radiation Oncology since joining the UAB faculty in 1998. Dr. Bonner also has served as co-leader of the Cancer Center’s Experimental Therapeutics Program for the past decade.
Andres Forero, M.D., will now co-lead the Experimental Therapeutics Program with Christopher Klug, Ph.D. Dr. Forero also has directed the Cancer Center’s Clinical Protocol and Data Management Shared Facility since 2000.
“The Cancer Center is fortunate to have the leadership and expertise of both Dr. Bonner and Dr. Forero,” says Edward Partridge, M.D., Cancer Center director. “I look forward to working with both of them as we accomplish great things for the Cancer Center.”
UAB Researchers Turn America’s Attention to Cancer Disparities
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) recently featured a commentary by two UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers in a special cancer-themed issue.
Edward Partridge, M.D., Cancer Center director and president-elect of the American Cancer Society National Board of Directors, and Mona Fouad, M.D., director of the UAB Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center, write that cancer death rates for African Americans far exceed non-Hispanic Caucasians in the United States, and only community-driven approaches to reducing health disparities will lessen the gap. Tobacco use and related cancers have decreased the mortality gap but not significantly, they add.
Drs. Partridge and Fouad list many contributing factors to cancer-death disparities, including limited access to care, prevalence of prevention and detection programs and differences in healthy behaviors that decrease cancer risk. Advances in oncology practice and medical technology also widen the disparity gap because not everyone benefits equally. They emphasize that more work is necessary to fully understand these factors and implement programs to reduce disparities.
HPV Vaccine Protects Females from Cancer Recurrence
A vaccine designed to prevent cervical cancer also may protect females from postsurgical recurrence of the disease, say Cancer Center researchers.
A new study shows that the Gardasil® vaccine decreases the likelihood of human papillomavirus (HPV)-related disease recurring in teen and adult women who have had surgery to remove cancer or certain precancerous changes. In fact, the chances of more cancer or precancerous changes occurring in the cervix, vagina and vulva for nearly four years after surgery is reduced by approximately 40 percent, says Warner Huh, M.D., Cancer Center associate scientist, associate professor in the UAB Division of Gynecologic Oncology, and the study’s lead presenter.
Gardasil® is approved to fight the four HPV strains believed to cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and more than 90 percent of genital warts. Dr. Huh explains that the results are encouraging because patients treated for HPV-related disease are known to be at higher risk for contracting the same disease postoperatively. Reducing the risk and need for a secondary procedure is an important step in improving women’s care, he says.
Men Should Take Lead in Prostate Cancer Screening
Men should discuss with a doctor the uncertainties, risks and benefits of prostate-cancer screening before it is performed, says Edward Partridge, M.D., Cancer Center director. “We want people talking openly and honestly with a health-care provider about the pros and cons of these tests to be in a better position to understand the results,” Dr. Partridge says.
His comments came after the American Cancer Society (ACS) issued updated screening guidelines that suggest doctors more actively involve patients in the decision to screen for prostate cancer. While not a radical change from previous recommendations, the new guidelines offer clearer direction on what should be discussed.
The ACS recommends that men age 50 with no symptoms of prostate cancer who are in relatively good health should make an informed decision with their physicians about prostate screening. Men at high risk—African Americans and men with a father, brother or son diagnosed with prostate cancer before age 65—should begin that discussion earlier, at age 45. Men with multiple family members affected by the disease before age 65 should start talking about screening at age 40.
Calorie Intake Linked to Cell Lifespan, Cancer Growth
UAB researchers have discovered that restricting consumption of glucose, the most common dietary sugar, can extend the life of healthy human-lung cells and speed the death of precancerous human-lung cells, reducing cancer's spread and growth rate.
The research has wide-ranging potential for age-related science and illustrates how calorie-intake restriction can benefit longevity and help prevent diseases like cancer that have been linked to aging. “Our research indicates that calorie reduction aids the body’s natural ability to kill off cancer-forming cells,” says principal investigator Trygve Tollefsbol, Ph.D., D.O., a professor in the Department of Biology and Cancer Center senior scientist. The research may be the first of its kind to involve human cells.
The researchers found that two key genes were affected in the cellular response to decreased glucose consumption. The first gene, telomerase, encodes a key enzyme that allows cells to divide indefinitely. The second gene, p16, encodes a well known anti-cancer protein.