SMU Research

Research: Hunting down cancer-causing viruses that hide from the immune system

Robert L. Harrod, Biology Lab ResearchSMU virologist and cancer researcher Robert L. Harrod has been awarded a $436,500 grant from the National Cancer Institute to further his lab’s research into how certain viruses cause cancers in humans.

Under two previous NCI grants, Harrod’s lab discovered that the human T-cell leukemia virus type-1, HTLV-1, and high-risk subtype human papillomaviruses, HPVs, share a common mechanism that plays a key role in allowing cancers to develop. Now the lab will search for the biological mechanism — a molecular target — to intervene to block establishment and progression of virus-induced cancers. The hope is to ultimately develop a chemotherapy drug to block the growth of those tumor cells in patients.

“The general theme of our lab is understanding the key molecular events involved in how the viruses allow cancer to develop,” said Harrod, an associate professor in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences whose research focuses on understanding the molecular basis of viral initiation of cancer formation.

While HTLV-1 and HPV are unrelated transforming viruses and lead to very different types of cancers, they’ve evolved a similar mechanism to cooperate with genes that cause cancer in different cell types. The lab discovered that the two viruses tap a common protein that cooperates with cellular genes to help the viruses hide from the immune system.

That common protein, the p30 protein of HTLV-1, binds to a different protein in the cell, p53, which normally has the job of suppressing cancerous growth or tumor development. Instead, however, p30 manages to subvert p53’s tumor suppressor functions, which in turn activates pro-survival pathways for the virus.

From there, the virus can hide inside the infected cell for two to three decades while evading host immune-surveillance pathways. As the cell divides, the virus divides and replicates. Then ultimately the deregulation of gene expression by viral encoded products causes cancer to develop.

“They are essentially using a similar mechanism, p30, to deregulate those pathways from their normal tumor-suppressing function,” Harrod said.

— Margaret Allen

> Read more about Rob Harrod’s research at SMUResearch.com

Research: Texas public-school Bible courses skirt state law

Stock photo of open BibleMost of the 60 public school districts in Texas that offer courses on the Bible aren’t meeting a 2007 state law mandating that those courses be fair as well as academically and legally sound, according to a new study by SMU religious studies expert Mark Chancey.

The study uncovered bias, factual errors and insufficient curriculum standards in Texas public school Bible courses. The report “Reading, Writing & Religion II” was carried out for the Austin-based education watchdog group Texas Freedom Network (TFN).

Chancey, a religious studies professor in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, recommends the Texas State Board of Education develop Bible course curriculum standards and the Texas Education Agency be allowed funds for a teacher training program. Chancey has devoted considerable attention to the constitutional, political and academic issues raised by religion courses in public schools.

“If public schools are going to have courses on the Bible, those courses need to be just as academically rigorous as courses in history, English, and math, not less rigorous. Some schools’ courses seemed more intent on promoting religious belief than religious literacy,” said Chancey, who reviewed tens of thousands of pages of material from Texas school districts.

“When public schools teach about religion, it’s essential that they do so in a way that does not promote some people’s religious beliefs over others,” he said. “Students and the Bible deserve our very best efforts, and at this point, as a state we’re not giving them that.”

Unable to lawfully insert creation science into science classes, some schools inserted it into Bible classes, Chancey said.

His research found, for example, that courses in several districts included efforts to reconcile a literalistic reading of the Genesis creation story with modern science. Some suggested that assuming lengthy gaps of time between each of the six days of creation explained why scientists believed the earth is so old. Several courses implied that belief in evolution was incompatible with being religious.

“One course’s materials even included a religious tract claiming that NASA had discovered a missing day in time that corresponded to the story of the sun standing still in the biblical book of Joshua,” Chancey said. “The first time I heard this claim, I did what any reasonable person would do: I called NASA. I knew that this story was an urban legend, of course, and NASA was able to direct me to a web page discrediting it.”

Written by Denise Gee

> Read the full story from the SMU Research blog

 

For the Record: March 3, 2011

Anna Membrino's winning paintingAnna Membrino, a first-year M.F.A. student in Meadows School of the Arts, has been named one of three national winners of the 2010 Canvas Artist Series Contest sponsored by Hyatt Hotels & Resorts and Folio Fine Wine Partners. She won for her design of the merlot label (pictured right) for the Canvas wine brand. The three contest winners were selected by public online voting and a panel of judges comprised of Folio and Hyatt executives, as well as other wine industry professionals. In addition to having their artwork displayed on the Canvas bottle, the winners each receive a $5,000 scholarship from Hyatt. Read more from SMU News.

Carla Mendiola, a Ph.D. candidate in history in Dedman College, has been selected for a Government of Canada Doctoral Student Research Award, which “promotes research that contributes to a better knowledge and understanding of Canada, its relationship with the United States, and its international affairs.” The grant will allow her to conduct dissertation research in Canada.

The SMU Office of Public Affairs won five awards in the 2011 Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) District IV competition. The Content Group received two prizes in the Blog category: a Gold Award for SMU Adventures and a Silver Award for the SMU Forum. The SMU Research news site received a Silver Award in the World Wide Web Sub Site or Section category. Kim Cobb received a Silver Award in the Medical/Scientific News Writing category for “SMU-led Research Center Aims to Connect Brain Signals to Robotic Limbs,” and Eva Parks received a Bronze Award in the Film or Video-Feature category for “The World’s Oldest Christmas Card.” The winners were announced Feb. 22 at the CASE Fusion annual conference in New Orleans.

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