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Release: May 16, 2000

UI cancer researchers receive American Cancer Society seed grants

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Two University of Iowa researchers have been selected for American Cancer Society Seed Grant awards through the UI Cancer Center. The seed grant awards provide junior faculty members and independent scientists with the support and funding needed to advance their projects.

Kristine L. Kwekkeboom, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UI College of Nursing, received a grant of $9,150, and Galen B. Schneider, D.D.S., Ph.D., assistant professor of prosthodontics and a researcher in the Dows Institute for Dental Research in the UI College of Dentistry, received a grant for $17, 500. Both individuals will receive funding for one year to complete their studies and present findings.

Schneider will investigate the role of the focal adhesion kinase (FAK) protein and its relation to the development and progression of oral cancer.

"The goals of this study are to begin to use biochemical and molecular approaches to analyze the mechanisms of metastasis associated with the protein FAK. This will determine if it is expressed and functions differently in normal oral epithelial cells versus those that are likely to develop into tumors," Schneider said.

Investigating these molecular mechanisms of FAK associated with oral tumor growth and metastasis may give researchers insight into how oral tumor cell growth can be regulated. If FAK is shown to have a regulatory function in cell growth and differentiation of oral epithelial tumor cells, it has the potential to be a therapeutic target.

Through his work Schneider hopes to lay the foundation for future studies concerned with the regulation of abnormal FAK production in oral cancer progression and the initiation of new therapeutic strategies.

Guided imagery and its effectiveness as a strategy for pain management in cancer patients will be the focus of Kwekkeboom's study. The technique involves creating and experiencing mental images that help patients relax, feel at ease and perceive less pain, Kwekkeboom said. Picturing a pleasant scene (a beach or mountain, for example) or changing the "image" of pain (such as imagining a cool shower over a firing blaze), can help patients concentrate their efforts and assert control over their pain. However, the strategy does not work for everyone, Kwekkeboom said.

"The goal of my research is to figure out why imagery works for some people and not others," she said. "What is it about those people who get relief of pain with imagery that differs from

the people who don't get relief? If we can identify characteristics that correlate with successful use of imagery, we may be able to identify those people who are likely to benefit ahead of time."

Kwekkeboom has developed a model with several variables that determine a patient's success with imagery, such as their ability to use their imagination, preferred style of coping, and expectations of what will occur when they use imagery techniques. The grant will investigate and test those hypothesized relationships to understand their strength.

Imagery is not a new principle in the nursing practice; it has been taught in nursing schools and continuing education programs for several years.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide.