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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 05/19/04
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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UC Scientist Awarded $1.5 Million Grant to Study Breast Cancer

A UC scientist has received a five-year, $1.5 million National Cancer Institute grant to study the link between one of the body's naturally occurring "receptor" proteins and breast cancer.

Susan Waltz, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Surgery at the UC Medical Center, will investigate the function of the Ron receptor tyrosine kinase. This protein occurs normally in epithelial cells, which form the covering and lining of tissues in the body.

Receptors are specialized parts of a cell whose job is to respond to the chemical signals that control the function of the cell.  Specifically, the Ron receptor tyrosine kinase is believed to regulate cell division and migration.

Recently, Italian researchers noticed that a large fraction of breast tumors contained a significant over-production (20 fold) of the Ron receptor compared with normal breast tissue. This finding, and subsequent studies by Dr. Waltz's team, raised the possibility that over-production of the Ron receptor might actually be involved in the cause or progression of breast cancer.

 Although no one can yet explain the connection between increased Ron receptor protein and breast cancer, it does exist, and Dr. Waltz and her team have been able to reproduce this association in laboratory mice.

"It's a very promising direction," Dr. Waltz says, "and obviously a new target for investigation and therapy--so we jumped on it."

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