UCI in the fight against cancer | New university
Through cancer care and research, UCI has found ways to improve current treatments and new drug-free innovations to serve Orange County’s diverse population. The UCI Cancer Center, established in 1989, quickly achieved esteemed status in the medical community, obtaining designation from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 1994 and Comprehensive Cancer Center status in 1997.
Later that year, it was renamed in honor of the Chao family, who have supported Orange County healthcare for decades. As of June 2021, the Chao family’s contributions to UCI Health amounted to $ 50 million since 1995. The Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center (CFCC) in the city of Orange is the county’s first and only cancer center. designated by the NCI, which works to treat, research, prevent and diagnose disease.
In addition, there is a designated Cancer Research Institute (IRC) located on the UCI campus where more than 60 faculty members actively research various cancer topics, treatments and therapies. One of these faculty members is Professor of Biological Sciences, Dr. Aimee L. Edinger.
The Edinger laboratory is developing targeted therapies that disrupt the growth and replication cycle of cancer cells and can be used alongside existing treatments.
As reported on the Edinger Lab website, a successful breakthrough has been the development of the SH-BC-893 (893). This natural, drug-like molecule blocks nutrients like nucleotides and proteins from entering cells and deactivates lysosomes, the structures where these nutrients are “digested” by the cell.
In typical cells, this nutrient deprivation triggers a cellular hibernation pattern, but a genetic mutation in cancer cells makes them unable to hibernate. As a result, cancer cells exposed to 893 “starve”. A current research goal of the laboratory is to identify the proteins that allow 893 to perform its observed function. This will give better insight into how the molecule works, which Edinger says is not yet fully understood.
Another goal of the lab is to find ways to inhibit a cancerous process called macropinocytosis. Macropinocytosis occurs when cancer cells create physical “tidal waves” of the cell membrane to collect and use nutrients from dead cancer cells. In February 2020, Edinger and his colleague Dr Vaishali Jayashankar published a research article showing that the higher the necrotic tissue present in a tumor, the more advanced the disease. Although it seems counterintuitive, it happens because there is more food available for active cancer cells to continue their cycle of replication.
Edinger is also trying to implement macropinocytosis inhibitors to prevent cancer cells from harvesting nutrients from nearby corpses. Most standard chemotherapy treatments kill tumor cells by creating nutritional stress, for example by damaging their DNA. The regeneration process costs a lot of energy, which cancer cells cannot spare, ultimately leading to their death.
However, since macropinocytic cells scavenge nutrients without using significant energy, they do not respond to conventional cancer therapies. The Edinger lab aims to use these inhibitors, in combination with other cancer therapies, to increase the effectiveness of otherwise unsuccessful treatments. This dual approach should be of low toxicity compared to chemotherapy because normal cells are generally not macropinocytic. This means that only cancer cells will be targeted.
Edinger and his team have successfully tested some of their findings in mice, and they are currently making progress towards clinical trials in humans.
For more information on how Edinger and other UCI professors are fighting cancer, visit the CRI website.
Lauren Le is a STEM intern for the fall 2021 term. She can be reached at [email protected]