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K-State professor finds link between low oxygen levels in body and cancer-aiding protein
Date:3/9/2010

What began as research into how diabetics could possibly preserve their eyesight has led to findings that could prolong the vision of children afflicted with retinoblastoma.

Dolores Takemoto, a Kansas State University professor of biochemistry who was researching protein kinase C gamma in the lens of the human eye, found her work taking a fascinating turn when she discovered a correlation between the protein Coonexin46 and hypoxia -- a deficiency of oxygen which kills normal tissue cells.

According to the data, Coonexin46, or Cx46, appears in the body during these levels of low oxygen. Besides the eye, which is one of the body's only naturally occurring hypoxic tissue, Cx46 also is present in cancer cells since the cells seal themselves off from the oxygen carried by the blood vessels, thus creating a hypoxic environment.

Takemoto believes the findings will lead to serious advancements in treating retinoblastoma, a cancer that forms in the tissue of the retina -- the light-sensitive layers of nerve tissue on the back of the eye. It occurs in 300 U.S. children under the age of 5 each year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

"When a child comes in with retinoblastoma in one eye it's usually too late in the process to save that eye, and, it will spread to the other eye," Takemoto said.

Once an eye becomes cancerous, it has to be removed to prevent the tumor from spreading. Too often, though, Takemoto said, by the time the tumor is noticed in one eye, it has already spread to the second, resulting in a child being permanently blind.

Through her research, Takemoto believes a siRNA medication can be invented which can be injected monthly into the noncancerous eye, preventing tumor growth. siRNA, or small interfering ribonucleic acid, is a class of double-stranded RNA molecules that can be used to interfere with the expression of a specific gene. In this case, the siRNA would suppress Cx46, which allows a
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Contact: Dolores Takemoto
dtak@k-state.edu
785-532-7009
Kansas State University
Source:Eurekalert

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