UK Researchers Awarded Grant to Study Aggressive Cancer Metastasis

The National Cancer Institute recently awarded a two-year, $357,743 grant to University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center researchers to study the role of a certain protein in aggressive cancer metastasis.

The lab of Kathleen O'Connor, professor in UK's Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, studies how tumor cells interact with their environment to make cancer more aggressive.

Specifically, O'Connor's lab studies a protein called integrin α6β4, a protein that integrates signals from its environment so that cells can respond properly and die off if they are in the wrong context. This protein can cause carcinoma cells to take on some of the worst properties of cancer, including invasion, metastasis and drug resistance.

The integrin can selectively increase the expression of genes that cause cells to become particularly invasive and metastatic through a process known as DNA demethylation, but O'Connor says they do not yet know how these specific genes can be regulated.

"Through this study, we expect that understanding how the integrin affects this process will tell us more about how specific DNA demethylation occurs, as well as how cancers can become more invasive without mutating the DNA," O'Connor said.

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