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Researchers from K-State College of Veterinary Medicine receive grant to conduct stem cell-based cancer studies

By Brennan Engle

 

Two researchers at Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine have received a $100,000 grant to research stem cell therapy in the treatment of lung cancer.

The grant was awarded by Joan's Legacy: The Joan Scarangello Foundation to Conquer Lung Cancer.

Tamura and TroyerThe research being conducted by K-State's Masaaki Tamura, at right, and Deryl Troyer, at left, both of the department of anatomy and physiology, uses stem cells to safely deliver therapeutic drugs to cancerous lung tumors.

"This is a great honor to be selected for this grant, and we are very pleased to have the support so we can continue our research that is unique in the areas of both cancer and stem cells," Tamura said.

The stem cells used in the research are from the cushioning material, or matrix, of umbilical cords from both humans and animals. These postnatal stem cells were discovered by scientists from K-State's colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture and can be collected in large numbers inexpensively and are harvested from a tissue that is typically discarded.

Troyer, one of the original discoverers of the cord matrix stem cells, said that in mice, the stem cells have been shown to successfully deliver the anti-cancer drug interferon beta to intended tumors.

"We've gotten very dramatic responses," he said. "A significant percentage of the stem cells migrated to the cancer and delivered the therapeutic payload of the interferon treatment. In our experiments, this procedure slowed tumor growth and even reduced their size."

Tamura has researched the carcinogenesis of tumors of the lung and colon for the past six years and understands the need for a cure.

"Mortality of lung cancer is enormously high. Only 15 percent of those diagnosed with lung cancer will survive five years. It's a very serious disease," he said.

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 160,000 people in the United States will die from lung cancer this year.

Joan's Legacy is committed to fighting lung cancer with innovative research and increasing its awareness with a focus on non-smoking related lung cancer. The foundation has awarded more than $2.4 million in direct research grants for lung cancer research to date. It was established in honor of Joan Scarangello McNeive, a 47-year-old nonsmoker and New York writer who died in 2001 after a nine-month battle with the disease.

Tamura and Troyer's research also will involve a type of lung cancer called bronchioloalveolar carcinoma, the type of cancer McNeive had. It typically strikes middle-age women who don't smoke and is especially difficult to treat.

The researchers plan to test the interferon beta therapy in combination with other chemotherapy drugs and new immune system-enhancing compounds.

Susan Mantel, executive director of Joan's Legacy, said the research proposal she received from K-State was one of only 11 proposals selected for funding this year from more than 50 submitted.

"This stem cell therapy is one of the areas of real promise and hope of changing the outcomes for lung cancer, which is a particularly hopeless disease," Mantel said. "We really felt this cutting-edge research could make a difference in this understudied area."

 

Spring/Summer 2007