OU researcher identifies molecule that promotes breast cancer growth

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

By: Adam Troxtell

From: normantranscript.com

A University of Oklahoma researcher may have identified a new treatment for breast cancer that targets a specific molecule to keep the disease from spreading.

Dr. Ralf Janknecht, an OU College of Medicine researcher in the Department of Cell Biology, received a $1.78 million grant from the National Cancer institute to determine why DNPH1 is over produced in breast cancer cases and whether eliminating it could prevent the cancer from spreading.

“When your motivation is to help cure a disease, you know your research is not only for the books,” Janknecht said in an OU College of Medicine press release. “That’s great motivation.”

The most life-threatening part of breast cancer is not the tumor itself; rather, it is the risk of the cancer metastasizing, or spreading to other parts of the body. This is where Janknecht’s molecule theory comes in.

If a cancer drug can be developed to specifically target DNPH1, that could prevent the cancer from spreading. Janknecht’s studies had showed the molecule was produced in excess in major types of breast cancer, and that the higher the amount, the more aggressive the cancer.

“That suggested to us that DNPH1 is important for disease initiation and progression, and therefore it could be a new drug target,” he said.

Results from a few lab tests were promising. The first removed the molecule from mice and proved that this process has no additional health effects, meaning chemotherapy targeting DNPH1 would have no adverse side effects.

The next step was to develop breast cancer with a mouse that had DNPH1 removed. Janknecht found that it made a difference.

“With the DNPH1 removed, we saw fewer tumors per mouse and a tenfold reduction in metastasis,” he said.

So far, his work has been supported by grants from in-state groups, like the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, the Oklahoma Center for Adult Stem Cell Research, and the Presbyterian Health Foundation. Now with the National Cancer Institute grant, Janknecht can research why DNPH1 is so present in breast cancer cases and exactly what effects it has in the development and spread of the cancer.