RESEARCH TO STOP CANCER CELLS IN THEIR TRACKS
Pace Scientists Take a Novel Approach
Cancer cells replicate at much faster rates than normal cells do. In a unique faculty/student study, Dyson Associate Professor of Biology Nancy Krucher, PhD, and Pace University student researchers are testing a method that will cause human cancer cells to stop proliferating, and ultimately die. This novel research approach is focused on activating an important protein that protects against cancer.
Dr. Krucher explains. "I have been working over the past ten years on what controls Rb (retinoblastoma), a tumor-suppressor gene which is a regulator that tells cells if they should or should not grow. This gene is active in normal human cells, but is inactive in human cancer cells. So, if the gene is inactive there is no stopping cancer cell proliferation, and when it is active, cell proliferation is inhibited. We have found that a protein, PNUTS (phosphatase nuclear targeting subunit), which may promote proliferation of breast and ovarian cancer cells, inhibits the PP1 enzyme that activates Rb. We're working on finding a way to interfere with the effect that PNUTS has on this PP1 enzyme. If we can block PNUTS's negative effect on the enzyme, we can activate Rb, which will inhibit cancer cell growth."
Student/faculty research that matters. Preliminary work by the Pace research team has indicated that blocking the production of PNUTS in cancer cells does indeed lead to inhibition of proliferation and cell death. Dr. Krucher has been working with Pace students on this research since 2004. Her current student research team includes Veronica Castro '07, Stephen Milan '07, and Gabriel De Leon '08.
"We are studying this in a different way than any other cancer researchers are right now—no one is looking at PNUTS and the Rb connection," says researcher Veronica Castro, a biology major. Castro's sentiment about participating in this research speaks volumes: "Cancer is killing so many people. If we are able to find something that would help people with cancer, it would be beautiful."
Her sentiment is shared by fellow researchers Milan and De Leon. "If this research is continued on a larger scale, we may be able to say that we participated in a study that had a profound effect on saving the lives of those with cancer," Milan says. "It is very engaging work. Dr. Krucher is a great mentor who makes us an important part of the research team."
"This research appealed to me because it is applicable to people now, and because it's important. I love doing the research and the one-to-one atmosphere," echoes De Leon, who has been working with Dr. Krucher since 2005. "I have gained not only valuable research skills, but also great satisfaction working on this study with Dr. Krucher. It is fascinating research."
Outcomes. Dr. Krucher is presenting her research at the American Society for Cancer Research in Los Angeles this April. De Leon is a co-author of the paper, "Novel Function of PNUTS in cell cycle regulation" that Dr. Krucher will present.