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Creighton researchers probe secrets of skin cancer

Left, Laura Hansen. Right, Sandor LovasSome of skin cancer’s most closely held secrets are currently being pried loose in a Creighton University laboratory.

During the past six years, Laura Hansen, PhD, and Sandor Lovas, PhD, have monitored two signaling proteins they believe might play a key role in the development of skin cancer.

The results of that research, which was funded by a grant from the state of Nebraska, were significant enough that the National Institutes of Health has provided a five-year, $1.7 million grant to keep the line of inquiry alive.

The proteins, named 14-3-3 Epsilon and CDC25A, regulate both the normal division of cells and the abnormal division of cells that is the essence of cancer. Hansen says their research found that interfering with the signals these proteins send to cancerous cells can cause the cells to die and cause tumors to grow more slowly or even shrink. Importantly, she says, normal skin cells survive these interventions, potentially allowing more precise targeting of cancerous cells.

“Once we identified the role of this pathway, and how its signals and functions change as normal skin cells become cancerous, we got the idea that targeting, or trying to inhibit these proteins, might be a good way to prevent or treat skin cancer,” she says. “Since normal skin cells survive the signaling interference, it's a potential therapy that could be specific to the cancer cells, and while that sort of specificity is highly desirable it also has implications for other kinds of cancer.”

Hansen says she and Lovas, both professors at the Creighton University School of Medicine, submitted the grant application to the NIH last October.

“The upcoming lab work we have to do is to understand how other proteins interact with the target proteins we have identified, how they talk to each other, and how they regulate the behavior of skin cancer cells,” she says.

A key role will be played by Lovas, whose work developing effective peptide inhibitor proteins has been key to the success of the research.

He will seek to refine the peptides to be even more specific, thus enabling effective interventions at lower concentrations.

“Then we will take his inhibitors, along with some commercial inhibitors of related proteins that we are interested in, and see how effective we can get this therapy to be both in preventing malignant progression of pre-malignant lesions, and in treating those lesions as well,” Hansen says.


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