UH Moment: ‘Pancreatic Cancer’

Cancer has stubbornly held tight to all its secrets…but one University of Houston center is getting closer to unlocking them. Here’s this week’s UH Moment.

“Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers,” said Professor Chin-Yo Lin with the UH Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling. “By the time the patient notices that something is wrong, and it’s been properly diagnosed, the disease is very advanced.”

Lin’s innovative research into pancreatic cancer is investigating how to “tell” cancerous tumors in the pancreas to stop growing. It involves something called LXRs, or Liver X receptors.

Imagine a target, and this target’s is named “Liver X Receptor.” It lives inside a cancerous tumor. Lin’s research finds ways to tell Liver X Receptor to carry a drug into the tumor’s DNA and switch off the part that tells the tumor to grow. 

“In our first set of experiments, we were able to show that Liver X receptors are involved in the growth of tumor cells,” he said. “Our next phase is to identify even better chemical compounds specifically for cancer, and specifically for pancreatic cancer.” 

Liver X is part of a family of genes known as nuclear receptors, and they are part of a growing area of interest for cancer researchers because of the way they bind with chemical compounds to “talk” to the tumor. 

The Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling was established at UH in 2009 and is a leading component of the UH Health Initiative.  Led by Jan-Åke Gustafsson, a National Academy of Sciences member and world-renowned expert in the field of nuclear receptors, the center researchers are focused on understanding the roles of these receptors—like Liver X—in health and disease…to prolong patient lives or even eradicate the deadliest of cancers.

Lin’s research is funded by Golfers Against Cancer and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). 

“This is a promising development in this particular field,” Lin said. “Not only are we studying a gene that has a function in tumor cells, but we can actually manipulate it, which is the other difficult challenge in cancer research.”   

Cancer research is part of what’s happening at the University of Houston.  I’m Marisa Ramirez.

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