Academics & Research News

Scientists testing new treatment techniques

A research team at UH Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling are helping in the fight against breast and colon cancer by seeking out estrogen characteristics hormones that could be used as a treatment method.

Cecilia Williams, an assistant professor in the UH Biology and Biochemistry department, said that the heart of the matter lies in two experiments that focus on how the two types of cancer cells react to different types of estrogen cell generators.

One experiment that involved an estrogen receptor responsible for preventing cancer reacting with colon cancer cells showed decreasing tumor growth.

“The tumors starts growing slower, which makes us think that the tumor stops growing and with all the changes that we saw, we think that the tumor can become a lot more benign” said Williams, a Swedish graduate from KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

In a second experiment, Cecilia Williams and her team revealed a gene responsible for cancer growth known as KCNK5, the main target of the therapy.

They hypothesize that it’s a time bomb that needs to be stopped before it starts growing. However, halting the countdown while it’s ticking away remains a challenge.

“If we can activate the estrogen receptor before cancer starts, then we believe it could protect against the development of breast cancer,” Williams said.

“But we can’t tell for sure that it would stop the cancer completely. That’s to be determined with other tests in the future.”

From here, scientists and cancer patients look for areas of treatment, such as hormone therapy.

Jan-Ake Gustafsson, the Center for Nuclear Receptor and Cell Signaling Director, said that the therapy utilizes the anti-hormones ability to force the cancer cells to become less active.

Functions of the anti-hormones include wiping away estrogen, which makes choosing a prey for the ERBeta, the receptor that antagonizes colon cancer, significant.

“With treatments today, we could take hormone therapy that would inhibit hormones,” said Williams.

“However, there are side affects that involve taking away all the estrogen in the body. Because we know the critical target, we can use the estrogen receptors to focus on certain targets.”

There are hopes that with the development of new discoveries and information, colon and breast cancer could be a thing of the past.

Funding from several organizations, such as the Texas Emerging Technology Fund and the Lars Hierta Memorial Foundation, proves that there’s a need to see things through.

This is only the beginning, according to Gustaffson.

More research is needed to determine if hormone therapy can treat colon cancer,so we’re at a very basic stage of research,” Gustaffson said.

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