|Medical school professor receives national grant|
Donald Sens, professor of pathology at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, has received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a four-year study of bladder cancer.
The $1.4 million grant, awarded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a division of NIH, will fund the cancer research to be conducted in partnership with MeritCare Health System in Fargo.
"The short-term goal of the research is to improve the diagnosis of bladder cancer," said Sens. "The long-term goal is to develop a rapid, inexpensive and non-invasive screening test for early bladder cancer in the general population." The screening test would be a new tool to determine the reoccurrence of bladder cancer in patients who previously have been diagnosed and treated for the disease, Sens said. Bladder cancer is the fifth most common cancer in North Dakota.
"We want to develop a test that's more sensitive than what's currently being used," he said. Such a test "will help us spot recurrence (of cancer) earlier so it can be successfully treated. Pretty much, with cancer, the smaller the better." The test would detect early bladder cancer by determining the presence or absence of metallothionein isoform 3 (MT-3) in cells from a urine sample, Sens said. The collaborative research his team will work on is aimed at determining if MT-3 can be used as an early warning sign, or "biomarker," for the diagnosis of bladder cancer in new patients and the reoccurrence of bladder cancer in patients previously diagnosed and treated for the disease.
Those involved in the grant project, "Metallothionein Isoform 3 (MT-3) as Urinary Marker for Bladder Cancer," will investigate the role of arsenic and cadmium, known heavy metal environmental pollutants, in causing bladder cancer. Exposure to arsenic is known to increase the risk of developing bladder cancer, Sens said. Both arsenic and cadmium are known to increase the level of MT-3 in bladder cells. Seema Somji, a researcher in Sens' lab, has shown that both arsenic and cadmium can cause normal bladder cells to turn into cancer cells in the laboratory setting. "Our goal is to find out how arsenic and cadmium can turn normal cells into bladder cancer cells and the role of MT-3 in this process," he said.
"Like many other states, North Dakota has areas with increased levels of arsenic and cadmium," Sens said. "This initiative should lead to earlier detection, screening and understanding of basic biologic behavior in bladder cancer."
The grant reflects the recent NIH initiative to improve human health by increasing teamwork and partnerships in the research enterprise, Sens said. The new initiative supports interdisciplinary, translational research collaborations between scientists with basic and clinical expertise to advance understanding of the causes, prevention and treatment of environmentally induced human diseases.
"The idea is to get the basic scientists and the environmental scientists working with physicians and other health professionals who deal with patient cases," he said. The federal government is encouraging an interdisciplinary approach to research that is believed to hold greater promise in unraveling the questions still posed by diseases.
This is one of the first grants that links the UND medical school and MeritCare Health System for the purpose of clinical research at the NIH level, he noted. "This is really a new collaboration." The project requires the active participation and cooperation of seven key clinical and basic science researchers at two independent institutions. At the UND medical school, faculty members involved in the project, in addition to Sens, are: Seema Somji, assistant professor; Mary Ann Sens, chair and professor; Lucy Zheng, assistant professor, and Xu Dong Zhou, postdoctoral research fellow, all of pathology. The lead clinical investigator of the research is Conrad Toni of the Department of Urology, MeritCare Health System and clinical associate professor of surgery at the UND medical school.
The clinical sample preparation, correlation with pathology specimen and the analysis of the MT-3 in the urine sample are under the direction of Jerry Baldwin, clinical assistant professor of pathology with the UND medical school and executive partner of pathology and laboratories at MeritCare Health System, Fargo.
-- Shelley Pohlman, Public Affairs, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, firstname.lastname@example.org, 701-777-7305