Dr. Vincent E. Sollars, an associate professor of biochemistry and microbiology at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, has received a $432,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute to research a cutting edge concept to fight cancer.
The Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) will fund a three-year project in “epigenetics,” a relatively new concept in cancer therapies that has shown great promise.
“The basic question we are trying to answer is ‘What are the processes that enable a normal cell to start misbehaving and become cancer cells?’” says Sollars.
As he explains, the process that cells undergo to become cancer cells ultimately produces a cell that stops listening and cooperating with neighboring cells. That communication, however, is necessary for the complex mixture of cells our bodies contain.
He says, “This grant will investigate a process known as ‘canalization.’ Much like a canal for water directs the flow of water, canalization directs a cell as it matures into the specific type of cell needed by the body. Disrupting the canalization process can cause a cell to change and lose its direction, potentially pushing it down paths that lead to cancer.”
Sollars said his team will be testing the role of canalization in the process of maturing cells and cancer development. They will be targeting leukemia specifically with this grant but the results of their study can apply to all types of cancers.
“We think our work can have a great impact on science’s understanding of how cancer progresses and will even help develop new treatments for most cancers,” he added.
This particular award is specifically designed to give students practical opportunities to participate in cutting-edge academic research. Over the course of the project, Sollars anticipates involving eight students from Marshall’s undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as students from the medical school. The grant also will fund a full-time technician.
The National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, is the federal government’s principal agency for cancer research and training.