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Role of estrogen in colon cancer prevention, treatment studied at UH

HOUSTON, Oct. 21, 2013 As the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., colon cancer affects both men and women and is expected to cause more than 50,000 deaths this year. University of Houston (UH) professor Cecilia Williams has been awarded a $1.56 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to investigate the mechanistic basis for novel colon cancer prevention and therapy.

While a truly preventive or targeted therapy against colon cancer does not yet exist, estrogen has been shown to reduce incidence of this disease. Williams, an assistant professor with the UH Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling (CNRCS), plans to provide a detailed understanding of the role and potential of the nuclear receptor estrogen receptor beta (ERbeta) in colon cancer prevention and treatment.

A large body of work has suggested that signals conveyed by estrogen can prevent or delay colon cancer development, but little is understood of the underlying mechanisms. Williams' lab offers unique models and data that can clarify how estrogen influences colon cancer development. Through this five-year project, the lab will investigate the mechanistic basis for novel colon cancer prevention and therapy using ERbeta to validate biomarkers and develop future therapy and prevention strategies.

"Our preliminary studies, performed with the help of graduate students Karin Edvardsson, Trang Vu and Philip Jonsson, have yielded positive results, and we look forward to expanding upon our research with this this NCI grant," Williams said. "Our goal is to increase opportunities for improved colon cancer prevention and therapies."

This work also involves experts within related fields, including Jonna Frasor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who studies estrogen and inflammation in the breast; Dr. Christopher Garrett at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, a colon cancer clinician; Preethi Gunaratne, a bioinformatics researcher and professor in the UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics; and UH CNRCS Director Dr. Jan-ke Gustafsson, who discovered ERbeta in the mid-1990s.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is one of 11 agencies that compose the Department of Health and Human Services. The NCI, established under the National Cancer Institute Act of 1937, is the Federal Government's principal agency for cancer research and training.


Contact: Lisa Merkl
University of Houston

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