Academics & Research

Research team awarded grant to research colon cancer

Assistant biology professor Cecilia Williams received a $1.56 million grant from the National Cancer Institute for the efforts of her and her team of graduate students: Anne Katchy, Karin Edvardsson, Eylem Aydogdu, Philip Jonsson, Trang Vu and Efrosini Cuko.

Their project aims to develop a compound that uses estrogen receptor beta to prevent colon cancer.

“Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States. This type of cancer is described as the uncontrolled development and spread of malignant cells throughout the body,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in an interview with the Houston Chronicle.

“Although anyone can get colorectal cancer, it is proven that the incidence and mortality rates are highest in African-American men and women. Research such as UH’s ‘Elucidating the Mechanism of ER-beta in Colon Carcinogenesis’ project will help the nation to come closer to finding a cure for this disease.”

The project is being conducted in the Center for Nuclear Receptors & Cell Signaling at the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

“There are a lot of different groups throughout the world that have come to the conclusion that estrogen is protective against colon cancer,” Williams said.

“Estrogen receptor beta seems to be protective, but no one has figured how estrogen acts as a protective measure when put through this receptor.”

A typical day in the lab for the graduate students involves acquiring cells or genes, altering them and recording, analyzing and reporting the results.

“All fetch work is done by the students,” Vu said. “She leads the group, so she gets an idea and she guides us on what the overall goals are, but the technique itself we do. She has no lab technicians.”

The grant added credibility to their work and plays a role in continuing the research for more than financial reasons.

“The grant has really helped prove our hypothesis,” Williams said. “Now I hope that we can prove or find out exactly the mechanism in estrogen receptor beta that prevents or protects from colon cancer.”

The role of estrogen in colon cancer does not entail regular estrogen dosing.

“A preventative approach is what we’re trying to get to. The final goal is to assign a compound that will only activate ER-beta, meaning one that doesn’t mediate the normal effects of estrogen, which mediates feminization for men and breast cancer for women,” Williams said.

“We are going to assign a compound that would only affect the colon and not the rest of the body’s organs, utilizing a two-step approach that avoids the body’s organs and targets only the colon.”

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