Link between infection and cancer
Researchers believe that 30 percent of all cancers in the world are caused by viral infections. Rashmi Kaul, Ph.D., associate professor of immunology, wants to find how infectious diseases lead to the development of cancer.
“Some reports indicate that cancer-causing viruses can hijack the immune system and cause chronic infection and inflammation that lead to cancer,” she says. “The immune system is a defense system in our body that is supposed to fight infection and kill developing cancer cells.”
Kaul’s research is specifically focused on how the hepatitis C virus contributes to the development of liver cancer, which has an extremely low survival rate. There are no vaccines for the virus and only limited treatments exist for chronic hepatitis C infection.
“The burning question in my lab is, ‘How does the hepatitis C virus evade the immune system and cause persistent infection that leads to the transformation of normal cells to cancer cells?’” she says.
Learning about little-known cilia
For a century, microscopic hair-like structures on the surface of cells were dismissed as unimportant. But one researcher is finding that cilia play a role in several genetic disorders.
“These cilia are immobile and act like a control tower for the cell,” says Nedra Wilson, Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy and cell biology. “They
stick out into the external environment, gather signals and then send them back into the nucleus so the cell knows what it needs to be doing at that moment.”
Wilson is identifying cilia defects that cause ciliopathies, or genetic disorders, such as diabetes, blindness, obesity and increased susceptibility to depression or anxiety.
“If we can identify the novel proteins in ciliary function and when they are defective, this will enable us to develop treatments for patients who suffer from ciliopathies,” she says.
Prolonging life for terminally ill patients with liver disease
Injections of a natural antioxidant called lipoic acid may improve liver function in patients diagnosed with terminal liver disease, if you believe anecdotal evidence. Martin Banschbach, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry, wants to find out if it works.
He is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to enroll terminal liver disease patients at OSU Physicians Clinics in a study to determine if lipoic acid therapy restores liver function.
“We have patients on transplant lists because current medicine is not capable of restoring liver function. We only have the option of replacing the liver,” Banschbach says.
The problem with so-called alternative medicine is there is no documentation that it is effective, he says and “this study could provide scientific data to support anecdotal evidence.”
The influence of intestinal bacteria on the nervous system and health
Microorganisms living within the human intestine affect the central nervous system and overall health. But Gerwald Koehler, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology, says he is looking to find out exactly how this works.
“The neurons in our intestine are connected to our brain,” he says. “It is conceivable that these microorganisms can utilize neurons to communicate with the brain and that the brain can communicate back.”
Microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract help digest food by breaking down proteins, lipids and carbohydrates into nutrients that can be easily absorbed by the human body. Koehler says he hopes the research will provide a better understanding of how the microorganisms function in the digestive system and enable scientists to develop medical treatments for diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis.
To learn more about scientific investigations visit healthsciences.okstate.edu/researchspotlight.
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Uploaded on September 1, 2016