The Hormel Institute research published in top scientific journal

Dr. Shujun Liu - The Hormel Institute

 The results of a study led by Dr. Shujun Liu, head of the Cancer Epigenetics and Experimental Therapeutics section at The Hormel Institute, were published in Leukemia this week. Dr. Liu’s study shows that fatty acid-binding protein 4 (FABP4) and DNA methyltransferase 1 (DNMT1) work together in a loop that is critical for regulating the aggressiveness of leukemia cells. Pharmaceutical drugs can disrupt this loop and impair leukemia growth by resetting the aberrant epigenetics in leukemia cells. The article, “A vicious loop of fatty acid-binding protein 4 and DNA methyltransferase 1 promotes acute myeloid leukemia and acts as a therapeutic target” was a collaboration with other researchers from University of Louisville and Mayo Clinic, including Drs. Fei Yan, Na Shen, Jiuxia Pang, Na Zhao, Youwen Zhang, Ann M Bode, Aref Al-Kali, Mark R Litzow and Bing Li.

“This research is a breakthrough because the findings discover a novel druggable target and identify an attractive class of therapeutic agents for leukemia intervention,” said Dr. Shujun Liu. “It offers a high potential for clinical use in AML patients and it also paves the way for a new target to develop next-generation epigenetic therapies for leukemia, and potentially, other types of human cancers, where FABP4 overproduction and aberrant DNA methylation co-exist to control the fate of cancer cells.”

In addition to leukemia treatment, Dr. Liu further explained with over 2 billion obese or overweight people worldwide, his team’s discovery may lead to a promising treatment option for this huge population with or without cancers.

Approximately every 3 minutes one person in the United States (US) is diagnosed with a blood cancer. An estimated combined total of 172,910 people in the US are expected to be diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma in 2017, which accounts for more than 10 percent of the estimated 1,688,780 new cancer cases this year. Leukemia remains a lethal disease for most patients. Because the molecular causes of leukemia are not fully known, effective therapeutic interventions are lacking. In this study, Dr. Liu and his team dissected the molecular causes that are responsible for leukemia development and disease progression and looked for the mechanism-based therapeutic options to cure this lethal blood cancer.

DNMT overexpression is prevalent in leukemia cells and aberrant DNA methylation is a key hallmark of leukemia development. However, efforts to target DNMT deregulation for drug development have lagged. In addition, obesity is associated with increased risks of many cancers. FABP4 is a master regulator of lipid metabolism, and highly expressed in obese patients. Dr. Liu’s previous findings demonstrate that FABP4 is a cancer-promoting factor, but pharmacological targeting of FABP4 for cancer therapy remains unexplored.