Huntsman Cancer Institute finds cell inhibitor

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    By Kristen Taufer

    The Huntsman Cancer Institute has made an important finding that may have potential for the treatment of cancer, said Doug Grossman, investigator at the Institute.

    For several years, the Institute, part of the University of Utah, has been working to understand the molecular basis of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. They”ve now come across an inhibitor which causes cell death, or apoptosis, said Grossman.

    Cancer occurs when a cell starts to divide and does not die, said Dan Simmons, director of the Cancer Research Center and Professor of chemistry and biochemistry at BYU.

    Melanoma cells are particularly resistant to apoptotic signals, said Grossman. The question in his lab was how melanoma cells acquired this resistance.

    Grossman and his colleagues were able to engineer mice that produced an inhibitor called Survivin and consequently the animal”s cells did not undergo cell death. The object was to understand the role of one molecule in the development of skin cancer in order to allow further research on the subject.

    “Basically it represents a potential new approach to cancer therapy,” Grossman said.

    Instead of attacking skin cancer cells with traditional treatments, scientists can now see if they are able to block Survivin”s function in cancer patients, fighting cancer at the level of the defective apoptotic pathways, Grossman said.

    Current treatments for skin cancer, including chemotherapy and drugs, are sometimes ineffective because they work by inducing apoptosis. But melanoma cells are resistant to apoptotic signals.

    Although Grossman”s research focused on skin cancer, he believes it could be generally applicable to all cancers as well.

    However, as exciting as the new findings are, the research process is still ongoing and could take years to complete, said Grossman.

    “People should be cautious until results are in from a clinical study – cautious but hopeful,” Simmons said.

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