December 2, 2002

Cornell Lab Receives ACS Grant for Cancer Research

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Prof. William Lee Kraus, molecular biology and genetics, and his laboratory group had a lot to be thankful for over the Thanksgiving holiday — $650,000 in funding, to be exact. The group was recently awarded a Research Scholar Grant by the American Cancer Society (ACS) to further its exploratory research on the relationship between breast cancer and the hormone estrogen.

The research endeavors to learn more about how the hormone estrogen, which promotes the growth of normal breast cells and some breast cancers, regulates the growth of cells in the human body.

Kraus credits Mi Young Kim, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in his laboratory, with a key discovery behind the research.

Kim identified two enzymes that act on the proteins that bind estrogen molecules inside of cells.

The enzymes, an acetylase and a deacetylase, add or remove acetyl groups on the estrogen-binding proteins, or estrogen receptors, thereby modifying the proteins and altering their activity. The research group hopes to learn more about how the activity of the estrogen receptor proteins might be affected by this type of modification in both normal and cancerous cells, according to Kraus.

“The preliminary data and the proposal that we submitted for this grant is based on my qualifying exam. I am very glad that the proposal got funded,” said Kim, who will be a primary researcher on the project.

Estrogen receptors, like the ones being studied by the Kraus group, are a promising new area of breast cancer research. Tamoxifen, a preventative breast cancer drug, blocks the cellular growth-promoting activity of estrogen at the receptor level. The drug has recently been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer by 45 percent in high-risk women, according to Martine Gauthier, regional director of communications for the ACS.

Kim said that her research will further investigate exactly “how the chemical modification of the estrogen receptor, such as acetylation, regulates the activity of the receptors.”

“We hope that the information we obtain from this research will give us clues about how to target the estrogen receptors to find new ways to treat breast cancer,” Kim said.

Until a cure for breast cancer is found, however, the ACS strongly recommends that women follow early detection guidelines like self-exams and regular mammography screening.

The ACS is the largest non-profit source of private funding for cancer research in the nation, and is second only to the government in total dollars spent. According to Gauthier, the organization has more than $314 million currently at work nationwide and more than $38 million at work in N.Y. and N.J.

Archived article by Adrianne Kroepsch