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Medical College Receives NIH Grant To Study New Chemotherapy Target

The Medical College of Wisconsin has received a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of General Medical Sciences to investigate potential new pathways for targeting cancer drugs.

Robert Deschenes, Ph.D., the Joseph P Heil, Jr. Professor in Molecular Oncogenesis, is principal investigator for the grant.   Dr. Deschenes is one of the nation's leading researchers in the genetic and biochemical mechanisms of cellular cell growth regulation.

The project focuses on the Ras oncogene protein that has been found in nearly 30% of all cancers, with the incidence of Ras mutations appearing in some cancers being considerably higher. The normal Ras protein serves as a molecular switch, controlling cell growth and division. In cancer, mutations cause the switch to remain on, leading to uncontrolled growth of malignant cells. The Ras protein "switch” must be correctly delivered and assembled into active complexes within the cells.

The delivery pathway is poorly understood, but recently the Deschenes laboratory discovered an enzyme that attaches a lipid signal required for targeting Ras to the membrane where it acts. This grant will clarify the details of this novel pathway using yeast as a model system for cancer cells. The ultimate goal is to develop novel inhibitors of this pathway that can be developed into novel cancer chemotherapeutic drugs.

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