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TODAY news for Thursday, March 23, 2006

School of Medicine news

Loma Linda University School of Medicine research program benefits from $25,000 grant to study pancreatic cancer

Nathan Wall, PhD, Maritess Gay Asumen, Dalmar McGregor, Tochukwu Ifeacho, Svyatoslav Teppone, and Nick Galloway
(Front row, from left) Nathan Wall, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology; Maritess Gay Asumen, research assistant; Dalmar McGregor, second year PhD candidate; (back row, from left) Tochukwu Ifeacho, undergraduate student; Svyatoslav Teppone, second-year PhD candidate; and Nick Galloway, first-year PhD candidate, pose for a picture.
A 2006 seed grant from the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research in the amount of $25,000 was awarded to Nathan R. Wall, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology, for his research proposal titled “Surviving Regulation of Apoptosis in Pancreatic Cancer.” Every year the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research awards seed grants for new research projects of merit for pancreatic cancer.

The Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research is a national, nonprofit organization, founded in 1997 in honor of Ronald S. Hirshberg, who died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 54. It is dedicated to advancing pancreatic cancer research and providing information, resources, and support to pancreatic cancer patients and their families. To date, the foundation has raised more than $5 million for pancreatic cancer research.

Dr. Wall and his research group are interested in developing more effective gene-based therapies in an attempt to eradicate pancreatic cancer cells by manipulating their intracellular genetic material with strategies ranging from restoring the function of mutated or missing tumor suppressor genes to inhibiting the function of activated oncogenes or their partners.

Dr. Wall was recruited to Loma Linda University after completing postdoctoral training at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. He is a member of the departments of biochemistry & microbiology and the Center for Molecular Biology and Gene Therapy and a founding member of the new Center for Health Disparities Research here at LLU.

“It is an honor to be recognized as a young scientist by a foundation as prestigious as the Hirshberg Foundation,” says Dr. Wall. “It provides me with collaboration and mentorship outside of Loma Linda and I really appreciate the opportunity.”

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer death (nearly 30,000 deaths annually) in men and women in the United States, with five-year survival for all stages of disease less than 5 percent. Despite several phase II trials of chemo-radiotherapy regimens, no clinically meaningful gains have been made in the treatment of pancreatic cancer.

There is an urgent need for more effective therapy for patients with advanced disease. Potential approaches might include genetic-based therapies that attempt to eradicate cancer cells by manipulating their intracellular genetic material with strategies ranging from restoring the function of mutated or missing tumor suppressor genes to inhibiting the function of activated oncogenes.

Dr. Wall and his research group will study one such strategy by utilizing the inhibitor of apoptosis (IAP) surviving. As a therapeutic target, it is overexpressed in cancer but undetectable in normal differentiated adult tissues. Surviving expression in cancer appears to be associated with unfavorable clinicopathological parameters, such as poor prognosis with progressive disease and shorter patient survival rates. Surviving is also expressed in the majority of pancreatic adenocarcinomas and correlates with cellular proliferation and apoptosis.

The team will seek to further elucidate the cellular pathways and molecular interactions taking place between surviving and members of the apoptosome, and to evaluate whether pancreatic cancer can be treated by targeting surviving both in vitro and in vivo.

“I’m very proud of my research group,” says Dr. Wall. “I’m blessed with a good group of young scientists.”

The Hirshberg Foundation is committed to finding a cure for pancreatic cancer in honor of Ron Hirshberg and the many others who have been diagnosed with this disease.

Established by Agi Hirshberg, whose husband, Ronald, died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 54, the foundation includes the Ronald S. Hirshberg Translational Pancreatic Cancer Research Laboratory; the Ronald S. Hirshberg Chair in Translational Pancreatic Cancer Research; and the Hirshberg Pancreatic Cancer Information Center.

By Preston Clarke Smith

TODAY news for Thursday, March 23, 2006