The Hormel Institute will share some of its cutting-edge cancer research projects over the coming days at two major conferences that attract top researchers from around the world.

Starting Saturday, the 107th annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) will host around 19,000 cancer researchers from more than 60 countries during its five-day conference in New Orleans.

Researchers from The Hormel Institute, including Executive Director Dr. Zigang Dong, will present at the AACR conference results from numerous projects including findings related to cancer of the liver, colon, lungs, and skin.

“Progress in cancer research is made through scientific collaborations,” Dr. Dong said. “The Hormel Institute is honored to take part in international conferences that connect top cancer researchers and provide an opportunity to learn from each other to accelerate answers to this devastating disease.”

This year, the AACR conference – considered the premier cancer research event to share the latest, most-exciting basic, translational and clinical discoveries – is themed “Delivering Cures Through Cancer Science.” The theme reinforces the inextricable link between research and advances in patient care and will be evident throughout the meeting as the latest, most exciting discoveries are presented in every area of cancer research

At the conference, The Hormel Institute will present several projects from the Molecular & Cellular Biology section co-led by Dr. Zigang Dong and Dr. Ann M. Bode, Associate Director. One of those projects is the team’s investigation of the RNF2 gene, which is highly expressed in many tumors. Previously, it has been suggested that this gene has a cancerous function but the exact role was unknown. The team’s recent projects revolve around determining that role and point toward possible new cancer prevention or therapy options.

Another presentation from the Dong/Bode section will highlight work on the cancer-preventative qualities of natural compounds. Extracellular signal-regulated kinase 2 (ERK2) is a protein that modulates many important functions such as cell growth, cell death and transcriptional regulation in cancer. The group has identified new ERK2 inhibitors that show anti-cancer effects. The work indicates that many natural compounds, including catechol (found in various fruits and vegetables such as apple, apricot, mushrooms, and many more) can work together to target the ERK2 protein, an important target in cancer.

Work from the lab of Dr. Yibin Deng, leader of the Cell Death & Cancer Genetics research section, will also be on display. His work focuses on a potential new target for lung cancer treatment. Recent data suggests that a protein known as DNA Damage-Regulated Autophagy Modulator 1 (DRAM1) plays an important role in regulating the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) of certain lung cancer cells. EMT is a process by which tissue cells lose their cell polarity and cell-cell adhesion and gain migratory and invasive properties to become mesenchymal stem cells. This understanding may lead to new treatment options through protein targeting.

Dr. Ningling Kang, leader of the Tumor Microenvironment & Metastasis research section, will present her team’s work on potential new therapeutic targets for liver metastasis of pancreatic or colorectal cancer. The team has been studying why pancreatic or colorectal cancer cells often metastasize to the liver. They found that vasodilator-stimulated phosphoprotein (VASP), a cytoskeleton regulatory protein, increases in the majority of pancreatic or colorectal cancers and promotes liver metastasis in cancer patients.  They also found that VASP can enhance the implantation and survival of cancer cells in the liver via activating β1-integrin-mediated signaling of cancer cells. Their findings highlight VASP and its regulated signaling cascades as potential new therapeutic targets for liver metastasis of pancreatic or colorectal cancer. Metastatic liver disease is a major cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Understanding why and how the cancer cells spread into the liver can lead to better strategies and therapies to treat the disease.

Dr. Rebecca Morris, leader of the Stem Cells & Cancer research section, will present at the Singapore International Conference on Skin Research next week. The conference takes place at the Skin Research Institute of Singapore on April 18 – 21 and brings together expert skin researchers from all over the world. Topics discussed at the conference include skin inflammation and immunology, tissue integrity and repair, and skin cancer. Dr. Morris will give a talk titled “Evidence for reciprocal interaction between bone marrow and cutaneous epithelial cells” and present in a poster session during the conference.