Week in Review: Reward

 UNC-TV Science Week In Review

UNC-TV Science Week in Review: June 20, 2013


Everybody loves a good payoff, a reward. Whether it’s finding five dollars in the pocket of an old coat, getting the promotion we have been working toward for years or falling over in the living room only to see the remote sitting underneath the couch, even the smallest reward makes the day more enjoyable.

This week in North Carolina, scientists and residents received their own payoffs in the form of discoveries, good environmental news and literal payoffs.

Osteoporosis Drug Useful Against Breast Cancer

Donald McDonnell, PhD, chair of the Duke pharmacology and cancer biology departments, found an unexpected reward of a possible cancer treatment in the old coat of an osteoporosis drug. At the annual Endocrine Society meeting in San Francisco on June 15, McDonnell presented bazedoxifene’s effect on breast cancers caused by malfunctioning estrogen receptors. 

Bazedoxifene, like other breast cancer drugs called SERM’s, regulates estrogen receptors in cancer cells. It is also an SERD, a drug that removes those problem receptors. 

In studies in animals and cell cultures, Bazedoxifene prevented the growth of estrogen dependent cancer cells, even in cancers resistant to other breast cancer drugs. These resistant cancers are usually treated with toxic chemotherapy drugs, so Bazedoxifene may provide a less harmful alternative in treating resistant breast cancer.

Bazedoxifine already passed safety trials when it was approved as an osteoporosis drug, so it may be a near-term option for patients with resistant breast cancers.

NCSU to Throw Golden Retrievers a Bone

On the subject of finding cancer treatments in odd places, NC State recently received a grant from the American Kennel Club’s Health Foundation and the Golden Retriever Foundation to study genetic markers for cancer in golden retrievers.

As a breed, golden retrievers are prone to hereditary lymphoma (lymph node cancer) and hemangiosarcoma (blood vessel cancer). One in every three golden retrievers will get one of these two cancers.

Genomics professor Matthew Breen, one of the scientists who received the grant, says that he hopes to learn how these genetic markers cause the canine cancers and from there develop methods for early detection and therapy that could be useful for both dogs and humans.

Rain, Rain Stick Around

North Carolinians have seen plenty of rain lately. Between Tropical Storm Andrea and almost daily thunderstorms, people around the state have had to reschedule plenty of cookouts and baseball games.

But while residents took shelter, the state received some much-needed nourishment. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources reported that as of June 13, North Carolina emerged from a drought for the first time since April 2010. Their data came from the Federal Drought Map, released every Thursday.

Scientists say that droughts and dry weather conditions are unpredictable, especially in the summer, and urge North Carolina residents to still conserve water. Click here for more information on how to save water.

New DNA Checkpoints

For every problem we fix with medicine, our bodies fix a hundred by themselves. One such problem is when reactive oxygen species (ROS) which we make naturally, get too close to our DNA, they can break the chain.

We take antioxidants to soak up some of the ROS’s, but our bodies have their own defense and repair mechanisms. Those mechanisms are always working, but scientist know relatively about how they work.

This week, researchers from UNC-Charlotte discovered another piece to this puzzle. They found that APE2, a protein, plays a large role in recognizing breaks in the DNA chain and bringing in repair mechanisms to fix them.

These DNA chain breaks can lead to cancers and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Scientists hope that more information on how the body deals with these breaks will help prevention of these diseases.

Winner! Winner! GMO Dinner!

Mary-Dell Chilton, founder of RTP-based biotechnology company Syngenta , was named a World Food Prize Laureate on June 20. The World Food Prize is known as the “Nobel Prize for food and agriculture” and recognizes the world’s greatest innovations in food quality and availability.

Chilton received the prize for her work on genetically modified food crops. She discovered that by using Agrobacteria, she could successfully change the genetic make-up of food crops much more precisely than by traditional plant breeding methods.

While genetically modified organisms have caused controversy between biotech companies, farmers and environmental groups, Chilton’s research has found its way to 17.3 million farmers working more than 170 million hectares of land across the globe. Chilton and two other laureates will receive the prize in October.

- Daniel Lane

Daniel Lane covers science, medicine and the environment as a reporter/writer. He is currently pursuing a master's degree in medical and science journalism at UNC - Chapel Hill.