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Release:  Oct. 28, 1999

UI Cancer Center researchers receive grant to study brain cancer treatment

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Medical researchers at the University of Iowa Cancer Center have received a $161,000 grant from the American Institute of Cancer Research to study a process that may advance the treatment of patients diagnosed with brain cancer.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids are found naturally in certain foods and vitamins. Brain cancer cells appear to contain lower amounts of these fatty acids than do normal brain cells. In addition, these tumor cells are low in antioxidant enzymes, which are needed to scavenge potentially damaging free radicals. This suggests that brain tumor cells would be susceptible to forms of therapy that increased free radical production.

During the course of the two-year AICR grant, principal investigator Mike Robbins, Ph.D., UI associate professor of radiology and director of research in the department’s Free Radical and Radiation Biology Program (FRRBP), and Rick Domann, Ph.D., UI associate professor of radiology and a FRBBP researcher, will examine how polyunsaturated fatty acids can selectively increase the antioxidant enzyme catalase in normal brain cells but not in brain tumor cells.

"We’ve found that increasing the amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids and free radical production in brain cancer cells is damaging to the cancer cells," Robbins said. "We’re looking to stop the growth of glioma (brain tumor) cells and sensitize them to other forms of anticancer therapy, such as radiation, while protecting the normal brain cells from damage."

He added that combining this new treatment approach with currently available options, including surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, could improve outcomes for patients diagnosed with brain tumors.

Robbins research efforts began in 1993 after he received a UI Cancer Center Seed Grant.

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