ACS grant to study estrogen's role in breast cancer

November 19, 2002

ITHACA, N.Y. -- A four-year, $650,000 Research Scholar Grant from the American Cancer Society (ACS) will help Cornell University biologist W. Lee Kraus, assistant professor of molecular biology and genetics, and his laboratory group learn more about how the hormone estrogen regulates the growth of cells in the human body -- including cells that develop into breast cancers.

Kraus credits a graduate student in his Cornell laboratory, Mi Young Kim, with the discovery of two enzymes that apparently act on the hormone-binding proteins that bind estrogens inside cells. The Cornell researchers now hope to learn how these estrogen receptor-modifying enzymes, called an acetylase and a deacetylase, alternately add or remove acetyl groups at the receptor. They also hope to learn what effect these modifications have on the activity of the receptors in normal and cancerous human mammary cells.

Certain drugs, such as Tamoxifen, are routinely prescribed to treat or prevent estrogen-related cancers because the drugs block the cellular growth-promoting actions of estrogen at the receptor level. But the molecular details of how natural receptor modifications, such as the addition of acetyl groups, regulate the activity of the receptors in response to estrogens are not clear to medical science, and Kraus expects his ACS-sponsored studies will help to explain more clearly the details of the estrogen-signaling pathway in normal and diseased tissues. "Ultimately, we would like to use this information to find better ways to target estrogen receptors for more effective diagnostic, preventative and therapeutic options for breast cancer patients," he says.

Other sponsors of his hormone-related research at Cornell include the National Institutes of Health, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

The American Cancer Society is a nationwide, community-based, voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem through research, education, advocacy and service. The society spends approximately $130 million on cancer research each year, including $34.2 million in New York state, and as of January 2003 will have more than $1 million in research grants in action at the Ithaca campus of Cornell.

Cornell University

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