Executive Director Dr. Zigang Dong targeting skin, colon cancers with new funds
AUSTIN, Minn. – Monday, Jan. 7, 2013 — Nearly $1.8 million in federal grants have been approved for research led by The Hormel Institute’s Executive Director Dr. Zigang Dong that is focused on preventing skin and colon cancers.
One grant totals about $1.5 million in funding over five years for a project titled, “Developing new ornithine decarboxylase inhibitors to prevent skin and colon cancer.” The other grant, totaling more than $290,000 over two years, provides funding for research titled, “Molecular Mechanisms and Targets of Soy Compounds in the Prevention of Colon Cancer.” Both grants became effective Tuesday and are provided by the National Cancer Institute, part of the federal National Institutes of Health. The United Soybean Board (USB) also gave The Hormel Institute $15,000 to fund the soy research.
Dong is leader of the Cellular & Molecular Biology section at The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota – Mayo Clinic.
“Cancer is a leading cause of death of humans worldwide, and in the United States, skin and colon cancers are the most common cancers,” said Dong. “Our hope is to develop a novel method/drug for prevention and treatment of these particular cancers.”
With this funding, Dong and his team will conduct extensive studies on ornithine decarboxylase – commonly referred to as ODC – which is highly expressed in many cancer cell types and promotes growth and tumor formation. Elevated ODC activity in some studies suggests ODC is a valid chemoprevention target.
Difluoromethylornithine (DFMO), an approved FDA drug, acts as an irreversible and specific ODC inhibitor. DFMO reportedly prevents cancer, especially in the skin and colon.
High doses of DFMO in humans, however, can cause hearing loss, making the goal of identifying new potent and nontoxic inhibitors of ODC extremely important, Dong said.
By using computational biology with the Institute’s IBM BlueGene/L supercomputer, Dong and his team have found at least one small molecule allosteric inhibitor of ODC that is less toxic and more potent than DFMO in suppressing skin and colon cancers.
Researchers now plan to use state-of-the-art technologies that are part of The Hormel Institute’s International Center of Research Technology to identify and test additional new, nontoxic small molecule inhibitors of ODC. Through these studies, the Institute aims to develop more effective agents – with fewer side effects – to target ODC for preventing skin and colon cancers.
For the other project recently approved for funding, Dong and his team will research compounds found in soy for the prevention of colon cancer and possibly other forms of cancers.
Diet and lifestyle factors, including obesity and lack of physical activity, are believed to be associated with increased risk of developing colon cancer, a common cause of cancer death in the United States. Consuming soy-based foods has been shown to exhibit varying degrees of inhibitory effects on numerous types of cancers, including colon cancer.
Numerous observational studies in humans have indicated that a high consumption of isoflavones or soy in certain countries is associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer. However, evidence for positive health effects of the isoflavones in soy is quite inconsistent as other studies have either suggested no cancer preventative effect or an increased cancer risk.
Under Dong’s direction, researchers at The Hormel Institute will perform rigorous mechanistic studies needed to clarify the cellular targets and mechanisms of action of soy compounds against colon and other cancers. They will combine analyses of protein structure and function with advanced methods of data management and drug screening to identify potential target proteins for three major isoflavones compounds found in soy. Then they will use supercomputer technology combined with molecular biology and other forms of testing to validate the computer prediction of these molecular targets.
The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota – Mayo Clinic is a world-renowned cancer research center conducting research focused on discoveries leading to the prevention and control of cancer.
The BioScience Triangle growing the collaborative partnership between the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Mayo Clinic-Rochester and The Hormel Institute-Austin is continuing to expand, with plans for a major expansion to begin this year at The Hormel Institute to add more laboratories and better space for its International Center of Research Technology.