AUSTIN, Minn. – A team of scientists from The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota, led by Luke Hoeppner, PhD, Associate Professor and leader of the Cancer Biology research section, has published research that could lead to new treatments for lung cancer.

Lung cancer is the deadliest and most common type of cancer worldwide. It is responsible for 1.8 million deaths each year. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type of lung cancer, accounting for 85% of cases. The five-year survival rate for NSCLC patients is poor because the disease can become resistant to treatment and it often spreads to other parts of the body.

“Improving the general understanding of the disease, implementing screening programs to diagnose patients early, and identifying new treatments is essential to improve the lung cancer survival rate,” said Dr. Hoeppner. “My team and I discovered a new cancer-causing mechanism. Better understanding of this new mechanism could lead to new treatments for the disease.”

Overexpression is when too many copies of a protein or other substance occurs. It can play a role in cancer development. A protein called IKKα is overexpressed in lung cancer and elevation of IKKα is tied to poor survival rates for lung cancer patients.

Dr. Hoeppner and his team previously found that IKKa promotes lung tumor cell migration when it interacts with another protein called DARPP-32. The findings from this study show that IKKa activates DARPP-32. DARPP-32 can then control protein phosphatase 1 (PP1) activity, which can stimulate cancer-causing molecules and pathways.

“Our goal is to translate these basic science findings into the clinic to help extend the lives of those with lung cancer,” Dr. Hoeppner said.

This study was primarily funded by a Research Scholar Grant from the American Cancer Society. Dr. Hoeppner also received funding from The Elsa U. Pardee Foundation and from the Wildfeldt Cancer Research Award, a community-supported internal pilot project grant. Community-funded pilot studies like the Windfeldt Cancer Research Award are essential for scientists to develop early ideas to the point where they compete successfully for larger grants.

This research was led by Sk. Kayum Alam, PhD, a Senior Scientist in Dr. Hoeppner’s research group. Dr. Hoeppner’s team also included Li Wang, PhD, and Zhu Zhu, a former visiting scholar.

The article, “IKKα promotes lung adenocarcinoma growth through ERK signaling activation via DARPP-32-mediated inhibition of PP1 activity” was published in the journal Precision Oncology. The article can be found here.


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The Hormel Institute is an independent biomedical research department within the University of Minnesota’s Office of the Vice President for Research. Collaborative research partners include Masonic Cancer Center UMN (a Comprehensive Cancer Center as designated by the National Cancer Institute, NIH), Mayo Clinic, and many other leading research centers worldwide. The Hormel Institute, which tripled in size in 2008 and doubled again in size in 2016, is home to some of the world’s most cutting-edge research technologies and expert scientists. Over the next few years, The Hormel Institute will broaden its impact through innovative, world-class research in its quest to improve human health.