CONTACT: JENNIFER BROWN
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-9917; fax(319) 335-8034
Release: August 22, 2000
UI researchers get $800,000 from NIH to investigate processes that make
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa researchers have been awarded a five-year,
$800,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study how human epithelial
cells become immortal. Immortalization of cells is a key event in the development
The research team, led by Aloysius J. Klingelhutz, Ph.D., UI assistant professor
of microbiology, will investigate the mechanisms that allow these cells to
avoid a natural death. Klingelhutz believes that two processes are involved:
activation of an enzyme that repairs the fraying ends of chromosomes and inactivation
of a cellular pathway called the retinoblastoma (Rb) pathway, which is involved
in determining whether a cell should replicate its DNA and divide.
As normal cells divide, the DNA at the chromosome ends gets progressively
shorter until a point is reached where the cells die. This type of cell-death
is a normal process. However, an enzyme called telomerase is capable of rebuilding
the frayed chromosome ends. Telomerase, which is not usually active in most
cells, is very active in cancer cells. This has led to speculation that the
telomerase activity makes cells immortal. However, according to Klingelhutz,
this activation on its own is not enough to make the cells immortal because
the Rb pathway also has to be overcome.
"By using unique epithelial cell model systems developed in our laboratory,
we will identify factors involved in controlling the Rb pathway during the
normal cell-death process," said Klingelhutz. "This work is likely
to significantly increase our understanding of the early stages of carcinogenesis."
The team will also seek to determine how telomerase is activated as cells
become immortal. "We hope that this research will eventually lead to
new and innovative strategies for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment
of human cancer," Klingelhutz said.
University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the
UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care,
medical education and research programs and services they provide.