BYU professor and students make breakthrough in cancer treatment

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    By KIMBERLY DEMUCHA

    A BYU professor and a team of student researchers are waging a war against cancer.

    Kim O’Neill, a microbiology professor, along with an army of graduate and undergraduate students at BYU’s cancer research lab are involved in cutting-edge cancer research.

    “It is comforting to know that our research can help develop and improve cancer therapies and hopefully lead to an eventual cure.”

    — Kaedi Garvin, 25, a graduate student from Portland, Ore., studying microbiology

    According to the American Cancer Society, cancer is a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrollable growth and spread of abnormal cells.

    “Here at the cancer research lab, we are testing to determine the effects of chemical and external stimuli’s on the DNA of individual cells,” said Kaedi Garvin, 25, a graduate student from Portland, Ore., studying microbiology.

    These tests allow us to see the causes and effects of DNA and cell damage, and ultimately determine carcinogens, Garvin said.

    “It is comforting to know that our research can help develop and improve cancer therapies and hopefully lead to an eventual cure. My own grandfather died of cancer several years ago, and that alone helps to motivate me in my work,” Garvin said.

    The lab is also studying a protein called thymidine kinase. This protein is elevated in the blood of cancer patients, Garvin said.

    As cancer progress into more advanced stages, TK levels increase, she said.

    While monitoring TK levels in the blood of cancer patients, researchers can measure a patient’s response to the various treatments and therapies they are receiving. If the treatments are successful TK levels will drop.

    Rising TK levels alert researchers and clinicians that something has gone awry before clinical symptoms appear, O’Neill said.

    This test could allow for early detection in cancer patients and facilitate better treatment at earlier stages of cancer.

    Early detection of tumors has been shown to dramatically increase long-term survival, O’Neill said.

    Ultimately this research could be developed into a general population screening to detect cancer at earlier stages, he said.

    O’Neill and the BYU cancer research lab have developed a monoclonal antibody that binds to this specific protein. It is this MA that helps detect the level of TK in a patient’s blood.

    Because O’Neill is the creator of this test, BYU is the leading lab in the in the nation performing it.

    BYU holds a patent for the monoclonal antibody that allows researcher to visibly see the TK protein in blood samples.

    In 1999, 563,100 Americans died of cancer, which is more than 1,500 deaths a day, reported the American Cancer Society.

    The American Cancer Society also reported that cancer is the second-leading cause of death, with 1 in 4 deaths in the United States resulting from cancer.

    Also being studied at BYU are the effects of nicotine and smoking on cancer cells.

    The BYU cancer lab employs five graduate students and 20 undergraduates. O’Neill, a native of Ireland, has been researching cancer for over 17 years, 8 of which have been at BYU.

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