Dr. Ki Beom Bae leads study to further understand specialized cells in quest to control cancer

Dr. Ki Beom Bae from Dr. Zigang Dong’s Cellular and Molecular Biology lab of The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota, published discoveries in a leading cancer research journal, Stem Cells Reports.  The team includes Drs. Dong Hoon Yu, Kun Yeong Lee, Ke Yao,  Joohyun Ryu, Do Young Lim, Tatyana A. Zykova, Myoung Ok Kim,  Ann M. Bode and Zigang Dong. The lab is co-led by Dr. Ann M. Bode, Associate Director.  Non-human stem cells were used for this research.

Stem cells are special cells that can be coaxed to grow into any cell type in our bodies, if provided the right molecular mix of growth factors. For example, stem cells could be grown into specialized cells like skin cells, liver cells or muscle cells. Learning more about stem cells is crucial for understanding cancer because a special kind of stem cells called “Cancer Stem Cells” are involved in cancer development and progression.

Dr. Bae and colleagues studied a protein called OCT4, which is essential for keeping stem cells happy.  They found that OCT4 binds to another protein called c-Jun N terminal kinase (JNK).  This OCT4-JNK interaction was found to affect the stability of the OCT4 protein. This is important because it could in turn affect the development and maintenance of stem cells. This research is key because it adds to our knowledge about the inner workings of these important cells.

“Cancer stem cells, which have characteristics similar to those of normal stem cells, have recently become targets for the development of new anticancer drugs that can fundamentally treat cancer,” said Dr. Bae.

“The precise mechanism that regulates stem cell self-renewal and pluripotency remains largely unknown. This discovery provides new clues for understanding stem cell differentiation and mechanisms. It furthers our goal of discoveries that lead to the prevention and control of cancer.”