NDSU receives $435,000 grant for colon cancer research

August 16, 2016 – Fargo, North Dakota – Researchers in North Dakota State University’s College of Health Professions are receiving a $435,000 three-year grant award for colon cancer research that focuses on creating more effective therapies to combat colon cancer and lessen chemotherapy side effects.

Principal researcher Steven Qian, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences in the School of Pharmacy, is receiving the competitive grant award from the National Cancer Institute and the Institutes of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health. 

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. and the third most common cancer in men and in women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate of incidence of colon cancer in North Dakota also appears to be significant according to a CDC map comparing state statistics. 

Some studies have shown that diets such as those high in Omega 6 fatty acids play a role in cancer development. That may be due a membrane-bound enzyme called COX (cyclooxygenase) that can catalyze many of the fatty acids in the body to form harmful products that promote cancer. 

“Cancer patients often have high COX-2 levels from cancer cells and tumors and current cancer treatment focuses on limiting these high levels,” said Qian. “This classic approach to develop COX-2 inhibitors as drugs, however, could limit the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs and also result in safety concerns. For example, the COX-2 inhibitors used to control these levels in cancer treatment can severely injure the gastrointestinal tract and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.” 

In Dr. Qian’s lab, the research strategy focuses on the potential therapeutic approach to explore the higher levels of COX-2 found in cancer cells, rather than inhibiting them. This is a paradigm shift about COX-biology in cancer treatment. Dr. Qian and his team will research the high level of COX in cancer and the more abundant Omega 6 fatty acids in human diets to determine how they can be used to control cancer growth and potentially make colon cancer therapies more effective. 

Molecular mechanisms by which Omega 6 fatty acids can influence human health are still unclear, but Dr. Qian’s lab has demonstrated that Omega 6 (Dihomo-γ-linolenic acid known as DGLA) may have beneficial effects similar to Omega 3 fatty acids, whose manipulation has been commonly used for cancer treatment. 

“Our preliminary data has shown for the first time that, via COX-catalyzed peroxidation, DGLA produces exclusive free radicals that inhibit colon cancer cell growth,” said Qian, “while its downstream product produces free radicals that may stimulate cancer cell growth.” 

The research team in Dr. Qian’s lab will further investigate the underlying mechanisms to develop a workable approach to be used as a new colon cancer therapy or as a complement to current chemotherapies. 

“This competitive grant award recognizes the high caliber of research conducted in the College of Health Professions and the significant role of pharmaceutical sciences faculty in contributing to help develop solutions to treat diseases such as cancer,” said Charles Peterson, dean of the College of Health Professions.

The competitive grant award to the NDSU research team was made under the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program, which broadens the geographic distribution of National Institutes of Health funding for biomedical research. The program also serves unique populations—such as rural and medically underserved communities.

The research titled “New Paradigm of Targeting Cox-Catalyzed Free Radical Peroxidation in Colon Cancer” is supported by the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences and the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number 1R15CA195499-01A1. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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