UNT professor's study could lead to treatments to fight cancer

Friday, November 7, 2003
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DENTON (UNT), Texas — Oxygen deprivation is one of the most relevant problems in medicine today. According to scientific studies, oxygen deprivation causes and impacts several heart and lung diseases. Lack of oxygen also plays a key role in cancerous tumors not responding to radiation and chemotherapy treatment.

Now, thanks to a University of North Texas professor's research about genetics, oxygen deprivation, and arrest of cell division, scientists are one step closer to destroying tumor cells and rescuing damaged tissue.

UNT Assistant Biology Professor Dr. Pamela Padilla, conducted research to study oxygen deprivation and C. elegans — a soil nematode (commonly called a round worm). The article, titled Suspended Animation in C. elegans Requires the Spindle Checkpoint, appears in the Nov. 7 issue of Science magazine.

Padilla's co-researchers for the study were Dr. Mark Roth, a faculty member at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, and Hutchinson graduate students Todd Nystul and Jesse Goldmark.

"When faced with oxygen deprivation, some organisms like the nematode learn to survive through an on-off genetic mechanism," Padilla said. "This mechanism initiates a state of suspended animation, then reverses this state when oxygen is available."

Padilla said learning how this type of genetic function is related to suspended animation — a death-like condition — could have a role in developing treatments to destroy certain diseased cells in humans.

Padilla's research links the fields of how whole organisms respond to oxygen deprivation, and how cells arrest division. She is the first researcher to prove that proteins involved with cell division are shown to be involved with allowing a developing embryo to survive oxygen deprivation.

Certain proteins become active during a cell division process known as the spindle checkpoint. This checkpoint occurs during cell division when chromosomes are about to separate from each other to form new cells.

Padilla's research demonstrates that the spindle checkpoint proteins SAN-1 and MDF-2, engage in cell cycle arrest to protect the organism against loss of oxygen.

Since the spindle checkpoint occurs throughout the animal kingdom, Padilla's findings leave open the possibility that suspended animation may be preserved from worms to mammals. She said the implications of this discovery could have far-reaching effects on arresting development of diseased tissues in human beings.

For more information about Padilla's research, you may refer to the Nov. 7 issue of Science magazine, or view the web site at http://www.sciencemag.org/content/current/. Padilla may be contacted by calling the attendant at UNT Biology Department at (940) 565-2011.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108