"It's known that ATF5 is required for brain development, but once we have adult brains and they're fully developed, we don't detect any ATF5 present in adult normal brains," Ciaccio said. "Somehow the instruction for the gene that regulates ATF5 gets turned on when it's not supposed to be on anymore. And maybe that's why we have high levels of ATF5 in the cancer. Then these cells start to grow uncontrollably and that results in cancer."
To better understand ATF5, Cicaccio produces large quantities of the protein from genetically modified bacteria grown in her lab at the Multidisciplinary Research Building on KU's west campus. But proteins are complex. The KU researcher is focused on better mapping a domain of the protein called bZIP that binds to DNA, in the hopes of preventing it from attaching to genes and advancing cancer.
Ciaccio studies the ATF5 molecule's structure using KU's Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Laboratory it houses a high-tech spectrometer akin to MRIs that are used in hospitals. The 800 MHz spectrometer provides detailed, three-dimensional computer models of the protein and helps Ciaccio better analyze the bZIP structure of the ATF5 protein. Someday, with a better grasp on the intricate arrangement of the molecule, scientists could find a way to target the protein and stunt cancerous growths.
But Ciaccio's work with ATF5 is still in the basic research stage, and the road toward a useful therapy can be a long one. Ciaccio estimates that it could take at least 10 years for her research to result in a drug that could be administered to patients.
"Ideally, we'd like to see this new type of treatment that will be developed prolong lives," said Ciaccio. "But if we could also provide treatment that would have less side effects than what's available now, I think patients would jump at the chanc
|Contact: Brendan M. Lynch|
University of Kansas