Posts tagged with "UVA Health"

Brain Cancer illustrated by Mina Tocalini for 360 MAGAZINE.

Cancer Discovery Reveals Key Process in Tumor Formation

A discovery from the University of Virginia School of Medicine may open the door to an entirely new approach to treating cancer: by disrupting a vital condensation process inside cancer cells.

Researchers led by Hao Jiang, PhD, of UVA’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, discovered that cancer cells are exceptionally dependent on the proper condensation of a particular protein, AKAP95, during tumor formation. Blocking this process halted the cancer cells in their tracks.

“It is now clear that biomolecular condensation is a fundamental mechanism that underlies numerous biological processes in normal physiology and also in human disease including cancer,” said Jiang, of UVA’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics and the UVA Cancer Center. “Our work reveals a new level of regulation – how liquid-like the condensates are can affect their activity in cancer control.”

Cancer and Condensation

The process of “biomolecular condensation” inside our cells is an area of great interest for scientists. In essence, our cells use condensation to create little compartments for important biological processes. You might think of these compartments as virtual mixing bowls that cells manufacture as needed.

It has been largely unclear if this condensation process is important in cancer. Jiang and his team showed that both the formation of the condensates and their material properties are important for cancer, and their work suggests that disrupting condensation or changing the condensate properties may offer a new treatment strategy.

The researchers’ lab experiments show that the AKAP95 protein gets condensed in cells, and cancer cells become heavily reliant on it. For that to happen, the condensed proteins, which are liquid-like, must be just the right consistency. Hardening them, for example, significantly impaired tumor formation, Jiang and his team discovered. Disrupting the condensation process halted cancer formation entirely.

A treatment based on the discovery might take a similar approach. Disrupting the condensation of AKAP95, the research suggests, could prevent cancer from hijacking our cells.

While much more work needs to be done to determine the possibility of developing a treatment based on the discovery, Jiang is happy to have shed light on tumor formation and to have provided cancer researchers a new avenue to explore.

“I was completely enthralled by this mechanism, as I had never learned or thought of such a seemingly simple principle of molecular organization in textbooks, previous classes or training, but it actually makes great sense and has such a profound impact on almost all basic cellular activities. My lab is thus very interested in how biomolecular condensation regulates gene expression on various levels, especially in the context of cancer,” Jiang said. “Further studies in this field will likely provide us unconventional strategies in cancer treatment.”

Findings Published

The researchers have published their findings in the scientific journal Nature Cell Biology. The research team consisted of Wei Li, Jing Hu, Bi Shi, Francesco Palomba, Michelle A. Digman, Enrico Gratton and Jiang.

The research was supported by startup funds from UVA and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, along with Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program Breakthrough Award BC190343. The work used the confocal microscopy system at UVA’s Keck Center that was supported by National Institutes of Health grant OD016446.

Jiang was supported by the American Society of Hematology Scholar Award, the American Cancer Society Research Scholar Award (RSG-15-166-01-DMC) and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Scholar Award (1354-19). Palomba and Digman were supported in part by National Science Foundation grant MCB-1615701. Digman and Gratton were supported by NIH grant P41-GM103540.

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Women Surgeons Earn NIH Funding

Women are underrepresented in the field of academic surgery, but women surgeons are earning a disproportionate share of research grants from the National Institutes of Health, a new study has found.

Women make up 19% of surgery faculty at academic health systems but held 26.4% of prestigious “R01” grants in place at surgery departments as of October 2018, the researchers found.

“Female surgeon-scientists are underrepresented within academic surgery, but hold a greater than anticipated proportion of NIH funding,” said researcher Shayna L. Showalter, MD, a breast surgical oncologist at UVA Health and the UVA Cancer Center. “This means that female surgeon-scientists are a crucial component of future surgical research.”

Women in Surgery

Showalter and colleagues queried the number of grants from surgery departments throughout the country to determine the percentage of R01 grants held by women. They identified 212 grants held by 159 principal investigators. Of those 159 investigators, 42 were women, holding a total of 49 R01 grants. “Female surgeon scientists are doing impressive work and have been able to succeed in a very competitive research environment,” Showalter said.

Diving deeper, the researchers determined that women were more likely than men to be first-time grant recipients. More than 73% of women were first-time recipients, compared with 54.8% of men. “Within the research community, we are potentially moving away from the tradition of awarding funding to longstanding, proven researchers,” Showalter said. “Females in this study were twice as likely to be first-time grant recipients. I hope that the focus continues to be on awarding funding to a diverse group of surgeon-scientists.”

Women who held R01 grants were more likely to be part of a department with a female chair or that is more than 30 percent female, the researchers determined. They also found that women had fewer research articles published in scientific journals than did their male colleagues. “This finding may be related to the number of first-time grants and is consistent with previous studies that have demonstrated that women in academic surgery have fewer publication in general than men,” Showalter said.

The researchers encouraged surgery departments to nurture and promote female faculty, and to advocate for women in leadership positions. Strong mentorship programs are important, Showalter said.

“Currently, there are a number of accomplished female surgeon-scientists, and I am confident that many more will play crucial roles in the future of surgical research,” she said. “As a community within academia, we need to support and promote a diverse faculty.”

Findings Published

The researchers have published their findings online in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. The research team consisted of Elizabeth D. Krebs, Adishesh K. Narahari, Ian O. Cook-Armstrong, Anirudha S. Chandrabhatla, J. Hunter Mehaffey, Gilbert R. Upchurch Jr. and Showalter.

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Alison Christensen, illustrations, pandemic, 360 MAGAZINE

New COVID-19 Stroke Guidelines

Top stroke experts have issued new guidance to ensure stroke patients receive safe, timely care while preventing the transmission of COVID-19.

The guidelines urge the use of telemedicine to speed treatment and advise EMS crews how to determine the best facility to treat the patient’s needs. The recommendations, from the American Heart Association’s Stroke Council, come amid increasing concerns that stroke patients are delaying seeking care because of fear of COVID-19. Such delays can have catastrophic consequences, including death.

“Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, patients should continue to seek immediate care for life-threatening and emergency conditions, and call 911 for any new signs or symptoms of stroke,” said UVA Health stroke expert Andrew Southerland, MD, one of the guidelines’ authors. “As the only certified Comprehensive Stroke Center in Charlottesville and Central Virginia, UVA has the necessary resources to ensure both patient safety and provide the highest level of care for stroke patients. Seeking emergency care for a stroke can help save lives and reduce the risk of long-term neurologic injury and resulting disability.”

The Importance of Speedy Stroke Care

With strokes, every minute counts, and speedy care can be the difference between life and death. It can also prevent lifelong disability. For that reason, Southerland and other telemedicine experts at UVA have worked with local EMS personnel to pioneer the use of the technology for pre-hospital care. They’ve placed tablets inside ambulances to connect first responders with UVA stroke experts, allowing stroke care to begin even before the patient arrives at the hospital. The new guidelines suggest this approach should be used widely.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, adds an extra layer of complexity for first responders. In addition to the need for appropriate personal protective equipment, EMS crews must assess whether each patient has the coronavirus, the new guidelines note.

When possible, EMS workers should screen patients using free tools available online, the guidelines recommend. Responders should have a protocol in place in case the screening is positive or if the patient is incapacitated and can’t be screened. The receiving hospital should be notified as well.

Stroke patients with COVID-19 are more likely to require a ventilator and intensive care, so emergency crews should consider taking patients to a hospital with the capacity to provide that level of care, the guidelines note. Emergency crews also may need to consider hospital capacity based on the number of cases in their region and they may want to bypass emergency rooms to lessen exposure risk.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic,” the guidelines state, “it is more important than ever to ensure that the patient is transferred to the right hospital the first time around.”

In all of this, communication between emergency crews and the receiving hospitals is key, the guide’s authors say.

“Now more than ever, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to work collaboratively and support our emergency medical services providers working day and night on the front lines for our community,” Southerland said. “To achieve this, we must optimize communication and pre-hospital care for patients. Nowhere is this more important than in rural networks like surrounding areas in Central Virginia.”

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