With the help of a $656,000 grant from the American Cancer Society, the research of Prof. W. Lee Kraus ’89, molecular biology and genetics, could potentially improve the screening process for breast cancer. The four-year research scholars’ grant was awarded to Kraus in January 2003 for work done by him and Mi Young Kim grad.
According to Kraus, the “goal of the work is to understand the molecular actions of how estrogens promote the growth of breast cancers.” Kraus, who also teaches at Weill Medical College, believes that a fundamental understanding of the biological process will make it easier to eventually find ways to treat breast cancer.
The ACS grants are awarded twice a year to a “young researcher that [has] something that is cutting edge,” said Alison Knoth, an ACS staff partner in Tompkins County. The amount of funding varies depending on each individual project. According to Knoth, the ACS has given approximately $3 million in grant money to the Ithaca campus of Cornell. Additional funding has been provided to the Weill Medical College in New York City.
The ACS, a private not-for-profit organization, raises money through donations and fundraising events. The funding for Kraus’ research scholars’ grant comes from events such as Relay for Life, the organization’s signature event. Cornell students, in conjunction with the local chapter of the ACS, will be hosting the Relay on campus for the first time on April 9. The event has already raised $20,000, according to Knoth.
Relay for Life chair Simi Katragadda ’07 said she hopes the event will raise at least $55,000.
Of the ACS donations and funds, 60 percent is set aside for programs and services, while the remaining 40 percent goes to support research projects such as Kraus’. According to Knoth, “research is one of the four priority areas through which the ACS mission is carried out.” Education, advocacy and services are the other focal areas.
Kraus credits the ACS grant for the progress of his research.
“If we hadn’t gotten funding from the ACS society, we might not have pursued that project further … so for us, [the grant] represented a new direction in the laboratory,” he said.
“In today’s climate, biomedical research is very expensive … so having the support obviously makes it possible to pursue that particular project,” Kraus added.
Kraus explained that “the idea of the grant is to try and bolster the career of younger investigators.”
Kraus’ research begins at a molecular level, studying how the estrogen hormone affects the growth of breast cancer cells. His research focuses particularly on acetylation — the chemical modification that occurs to the protein receptor when it binds to an estrogen hormone.
“The thought is that this process could play a role [because it could be] more likely to stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells. It is a new hypothesis that needs to be tested,” Kraus said.
Kraus said that he has had success in generating reagents that detect the chemical modification on the protein receptor. According to Kraus, it is these reagents that could eventually be used in clinical trials to screen breast cancer samples.
Breast cancer relies on estrogen for its growth at an early stage, but as the cancer develops, it loses its dependency on estrogen. “This estrogen-independent is the worst cancer of all … the most aggressive [type of] growth,” Kraus said.
Many types of late stage cancer are “estrogen receptor negative.” According to Kraus, current biopsies “simply look for the presence or absence of the estrogen receptor.” Clinical trials have established that those individuals that show the presence of a receptor have a better chance of successful treatment.
“One of the first things they do when they screen for breast cancer is look for estrogen receptor proteins. Perhaps by looking at the acetylation status, we can add another level to our analysis,” Kraus said.
Although Kraus’ work under the ACS grant is “geared towards information gathering, rather than testing or trying to find a specific cure … [researchers are] always trying to correlate the biological with the clinical progress,” he said.
Archived article by Diana Lo
Sun Senior Writer