Huntsman Institute turns out breakthroughs

By By Deborah Rafferty, Staff Writer

By Deborah Rafferty, Staff Writer

In 2008, researchers at the Huntsman Cancer Institute published 158 studies in various areas of cancer. Researchers have made advances in many areas, such as prostate and bone cancers, in addition to discovering general information on what causes cancer.

“All discoveries are incremental,” said Don Ayer, HCI investigator and professor in the U department of oncological sciences. “Things that we do here impact patients’ lives.”

Fighting the growth of cancer

Ayer, with Mohan Kaadige, a post-doctoral fellow in Ayer’s lab, published a study that suggests sugar feeds cancer cells. The researchers identified one mechanism by which cells use high amounts of glucose to help cancer cells grow, Ayer said.

“This could be fairly general, but we haven’t researched it in enough cancers,” Ayer said.

Ayer said he is hopeful that from this new research, they will be able to target these mechanisms to create medications that would suppress cancer cells’ ability to produce and use glucose. By doing this, tumors would stop producing cancer cells and die.

Prostate cancer

Early this year, Ila Singh, associate professor of pathology at the U, along with a team of researchers, identified a virus often linked with prostate cancer and suggested that it could be the cause of the cancer. This kind of virus is similar to those related to the cause of leukemia and sarcoma in animals.

“We found that (the virus) was present in 27 percent of prostate cancers we examined and that it was associated with more aggressive tumors,” Singh said in a statement. “We still don’t know that this virus causes cancer in people, but that is an important question we’re going to investigate.”

Prostate cancer is the second-most common cancer affecting men. About 200,000 American males are expected to develop it, according to a statement released by HCI. This research, if proven to cause prostate cancer in humans, could eventually lead to improved development of diagnostic tests, vaccines and therapies, according to the statement.

Bone cancer

HCI has also made advances in Ewing’s sarcoma, the second-most common type of bone cancer in children and young adults. Researchers found that when high levels of a protein are present, the patient is less responsive to chemotherapy, said Stephen Lessnick, associate professor in pediatric hematology and oncology at the U, in a statement released by HCI.

This research could lead to new medications and treatments that could suppress the effects of the protein. By studying these proteins and how they show up in tumors, researchers are hopeful they could be able to offer individualized treatment, which could lead to a higher cure rate, Lessnick said in the statement.

“Personalized medicine is the next frontier in the battle against cancer,” Lessnick said in the statement. “We now know all cancers are not the same. By focusing on how these proteins are expressed in individual tumors, we may soon be able to offer the treatment that will work best for each patient, and that could lead to higher cure rates.”

[email protected]