The University of Iowa is getting a quarter-million dollars a year for five years for a new study of a particularly dangerous kind of cancerous cells. Dr. Mary Hendrix, head of the department of anatomy and cell biology, says they’ll do a molecular analysis of the deadly cells.They’re comparing melanoma tumors that are nonaggressive and can be removed with one operation with those that will travel throughout the body, pop up everywhere, and kill you. Hendrix says the deadly cells act like something entirely different. She explains the most aggressive melanoma cells start to look like embryonic stem cells. And Hendrix, who’s done research on cloning, says that lets a cancer cell masquerade as another kind of cell and start growing elsewhere in the patient’s body. These aggressive melanoma cells can look like muscle, skin, blood or other kinds of cells and even start growing blood vessels. Hendrix says knowing which kind of cancer cell is in a patient’s tumor sample will direct the doctor how to treat it.She says drug companies are working to come up with “inhibitors,” chemical compounds to inhibit those genes that let the cancer cell change. Hendrix says the molecular analysis will lead scientists to “genetic profiling” on cancers besides melanoma. They can look at genes that are “expressed” in different types of cancer, and show what many of them have in common. Hendrix says the knowledge will help doctors plan a more effective treatment. The funding’s a MERIT award from the National Cancer Institute.
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