Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338
April 23, 2003
Professor working to decipher ‘mixed signals’ of cancer
Mixed signals can have deadly consequences, especially when they’re at the molecular level, inside the human body. In fact, a University of Guelph professor says mixed signals could be responsible for many human cancers.
Roger Moorehead, Department of Biomedical Sciences, is working with Rama Khokha of the University of Toronto to determine how improper signalling between cells may promote breast cancer. They’re studying signals within the endocrine system, the complex network of pathways that allows cells to communicate with each other and respond to environmental changes via signalling molecules called hormones.
“Our research focuses on trying to figure out how tumours develop, and that’s difficult to do because we usually get to them when they’re already formed,” said Moorehead. The researchers are working with genetically altered mice to study breast cancer as it arises in cells, before those cells form tumours.
The endocrine system in cancer cells works differently than in healthy cells. But knowing which signalling pathways are affected is extremely difficult because one signal affects the entire network, he said. “Some signalling pathways are well-characterized, but any one signal almost always interacts with other signals.”
In particular, Moorehead wants to develop a better understanding of a family of proteins called insulin-like growth factors, which help determine whether cells should proliferate, differentiate or die. These proteins mediate a number of important normal functions such as growth and development in humans and other organisms. He hopes this research will lead to a better understanding of the cellular signalling pathways that dictate whether cells live or die. This, in turn, will help with improved cancer therapies and prevention techniques.
This research is sponsored by the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Initiative, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Ontario Innovation Trust.
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