Miskimins receives $1.15 million grant for research

Miskimins receives $1.15 million grant for research University of South Dakota Professor Keith Miskimins has received a $1.15 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for cancer research. During the next five years Miskimins' research team in the School of Medicine will be looking at the role of a protein called p27 in the formation of breast cancer cells.

A report from the South Dakota Department of Health (www.state.sd.us/doh/Pubs2/Cancer2000.pdf) released in October, 2003 found that female breast cancer is the most common malignancy diagnosed and the third most frequent cause of cancer deaths in South Dakota. It accounted for 516 new cases and 129 deaths in 2000.

"Our goal is to understand what controls growth and proliferation in normal and cancer cells and p27 is an essential component of normal cell cycle control," Miskimins said. "In numerous types of cancers, including breast cancer, there's a loss of expression of this protein resulting in a poor clinical prognosis (for recovery)."

The p27 protein is necessary for cell growth and proliferation and when levels within the cells go down the affected cells can increase in size as well as numbers. In previous studies mice were specially bred to not produce p27 and they not only grew to the size of rats they also developed tumors, Miskimins said.

The p27 protein was first discovered about 10 years ago and along with similar proteins has generated a lot of interest in the research community.

"It's a pretty hot area," Miskimins said. "What we want to learn now is what regulates the levels of the protein within the cell. During the progression of a cancer we see a loss of this protein. This does not result from a mutation but from loss of normal controls of expression."

The mechanism of regulation of this particular protein is the nuts and bolts of Miskimins' research. The p27 protein is regulated in several different ways, including when it is synthesized, where it is localized within the cells, and how fast it is degraded.

Miskimins was initially funded for this research four years ago because his team was the first to discover a unique mechanism by which the level if this protein is controlled. "This is a novel target. This mechanism of regulating p27 does not work in the same way that other mechanisms do to control other protein levels. We made good progress in the first four years."

Two graduate students and a post-doctoral fellow will continue to work on the project and Miskimins also plans to hire a new research associate.

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