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Release: Nov. 21, 2000

UI cancer researchers are awarded grants

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Holden Cancer Center at the University of Iowa recently awarded two translational research grants. The Holden Cancer Center translational research grant program is designed to support the application of basic research laboratory discoveries to the development of new approaches to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.

The 2000 translational research grant recipients include principal investigator Daniel J. Berg, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine at the UI College of Medicine. Berg and co-investigators Larry Oberley, Ph.D., professor of radiology and Garry Buettner, Ph.D., professor of radiology, were awarded $20,000 for their project "The Role of Oxidative Stress in the Development of Colitis-Associated Cancer." Berg said the project will examine the correlation between reactive oxygen molecules and the development of colon cancer.

"Reactive oxygen molecules are produced whenever there is inflammation," Berg said. "With overproduction of these molecules, tissue damage can occur."

When this inflammation and tissue damage occur abnormally over a long period of time in the intestines, it is called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Patients with IBD have a much higher risk of developing colon cancer.

"We are studying a mouse model of IBD. We plan to use this model to determine if there is a correlation between production of reactive oxygen molecules and the development of colon cancer," Berg said. "If so, blocking the production of these reactive oxygen molecules may prevent the development of cancer. Our long-term goal is to develop methods of preventing colon cancer in patients who have inflammatory bowel disease."

Another recipient of the 2000 translational research grant from the Holden Cancer Center is principal investigator Aloysius J. Klingelhutz, Ph.D., assistant professor of microbiology at the UI College of Medicine. Klingelhutz and co-investigator Kevin Ault, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, were awarded $18,153 for work on their project "Telomerase Activity as a Diagnostic Marker for Triage of Abnormal Pap Smears."

Klingelhutz and Ault plan to use their research to test the level of telomerase, an enzyme that elongates the DNA at the ends of chromosomes, in cervical cells of women having pap smears.

"We know from basic research that telomerase is essential for the development of most cancers," Klingelhutz said. "And we also know from basic research that infection by human papilloma virus (HPV), a virus associated with cervical cancer, plays a role in telomerase activation. Our goal is to utilize this knowledge to determine whether levels of telomerase activity of cells from pap smears are associated with cancer stage and aggressiveness."

"Winning this grant allows us to develop a method for measuring telomerase in pap smears," Ault said. "Hopefully this test will help gynecologists in making decisions concerning treatment of women with precancerous and cancerous changes of the cervix."

If research findings on the project are successful, Klingelhutz said he will submit an application to the National Cancer Institute for a larger, more extensive project incorporating others in the Holden Cancer Center to determine whether testing for telomerase activity in pap smears is a predictor for cervical cancer.

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.