LAWRENCE, Kansas Natalie Ciaccio, a fourth-year graduate student researcher in the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the University of Kansas, is investigating what might be an ideal target for anti-cancer drug therapy, and she is focusing her work on brain tumors specifically.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that in 2008, there were 21,810 diagnoses of brain tumors and other nervous system disorders in the United States. These cancers led to approximately 13,070 deaths. What's worse, in 2007 brain tumors were the leading cause of solid tumor death in children, constituting 21 percent of all childhood cancers.
"The current protocol of treatment involves major brain surgery to remove the tumor, followed by radiation and some type of chemo," said Ciaccio. "These can have terrible side effects and make you sick. So for patients, not only do they only have 12 to 18 months to live, but they can be very ill during that last year. So we'd like to find treatments that are more effective and have fewer side effects."
In the lab, Ciaccio has shown that hindering a protein called "activating transcription factor 5" killed cancerous brain cells without harming surrounding, healthy brain tissue. Today, her work involves trying to better understand the structure of ATF5 and develop ways to target the protein. Working under faculty adviser Jennifer Laurence, assistant professor of pharmaceutical chemistry, Ciaccio spearheads the first group in the world to isolate ATF5 and study its makeup.
"If we have cancer in the brain and then we have normal tissue in the brain, ATF5 is something that's in the cancer but not in the normal tissue in the brain," Ciaccio said. "There's something the ATF5 is doing in the cancer. And if you stop ATF5, the cancer cells die and the tumor shrinks. It seems to be something very selective that we can use to target the cancer and not affect the normal cells of the brain."
|Contact: Brendan M. Lynch|
University of Kansas