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

February 17, 2017|For the Record, Research|

Research: New SMU study connects running motion to ground force

SMU researchers have developed a concise new explanation for the basic mechanics involved in human running. Their research has immediate application for running performance, injury prevention, rehab and the individualized design of running shoes, orthotics and prostheses.

The work integrates classic physics and human anatomy to link the motion of individual runners to their patterns of force application on the ground – during jogging, sprinting and at all speeds in between.

The approach could enable the use of individualized gait patterns to optimize the design of shoes, orthoses and prostheses according to biomechanics experts Kenneth Clark, Laurence Ryan and Peter Weyand, who authored the new study.

The ground force-time patterns determine the body’s motion coming out of each step and therefore directly determine running performance. The impact portion of the pattern is also believed to be a critical factor for running injuries.

“The human body is mechanically complex, but our new study indicates that the pattern of force on the ground can be accurately understood from the motion of just two body parts,” said Clark, first author on the study and currently an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at West Chester University in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

“The foot and the lower leg stop abruptly upon impact, and the rest of the body above the knee moves in a characteristic way,” Clark said. “This new simplified approach makes it possible to predict the entire pattern of force on the ground — from impact to toe-off — with very basic motion data.”

> Read the full story at the SMU Research blog

February 10, 2017|Faculty in the News, For the Record, News, Research|

Provost creates SMU faculty Task Force on Scholarly Research and Creative Impact

SMU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Steven C. Currall has appointed 17 University faculty members to serve on the Task Force on Scholarly Research and Creative Impact. The new task force, which began meeting in October, will examine and recommend ways for SMU to strengthen its scholarly research and creative activities to bolster the University’s position as the leading global research university in North Texas.

“SMU is in a unique position because of our geography, resources and faculty expertise to make significant strides in scholarly research,” Currall said. “For example, our high-performance computing capability, a university-wide focus on interdisciplinarity, and arts and cybersecurity research, along with our advantageous location near the heart of Dallas, have the University poised to expand its research footprint and become an even stronger catalyst for regional economic prosperity.”

Currall said the task force will provide “vital faculty-led guidance on how to strengthen our scholarly research and creative activities,” adding that “faculty leadership in this endeavor is crucial.”

(more…)

November 16, 2016|News, Research|

Meadows Museum curator solves mystery of the Spanish masterworks

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UK7T2oJg5UM[/youtube]SMU’s Meadows Museum has concluded a lengthy investigation into the true identity and postwar provenance of two of the most famous paintings in its collection – masterworks that had been seized by the Nazis during World War II.

With the help of a series of serendipitous discoveries and six years of relentless detective work by curator Nicole Atzbach, the Museum now has definitive evidence to prove that Saint Justa and Saint Rufina by Spanish master Bartolomé Esteban Murillo had in fact been lawfully restituted to the Rothschild family following the war, long before their 1972 sale to the Museum.
(more…)

October 24, 2016|News, Research|

Research: Rare inscription names mysterious Etruscan goddess

Greg Warden with Etruscan steleArchaeologists translating a very rare inscription have discovered the name of a goddess in a sacred text that is possibly the longest such Etruscan inscription ever discovered on stone.

The discovery indicates that Uni – a divinity of fertility and possibly a mother goddess at this particular place – may have been the titular deity worshipped at the sanctuary of Poggio Colla, a key settlement in Italy for the ancient Etruscan civilization.

“We can at this point affirm that this discovery is one of the most important Etruscan discoveries of the last few decades,” said SMU professor emeritus Gregory Warden. The University is the main sponsor of the archaeological dig.

“It’s a discovery that will provide not only valuable information about the nature of sacred practices at Poggio Colla, but also fundamental data for understanding the concepts and rituals of the Etruscans, as well as their writing and perhaps their language.”

Scientists discovered the ancient stone slab embedded as part of a temple wall at the Poggio Colla dig, where many other Etruscan objects have been found, including a ceramic fragment with the earliest birth scene in European art. That object reinforces the interpretation of a fertility cult at Poggio Colla, Warden said.

Poggia Colla steleNow Etruscan language experts are studying the 500-pound stele to translate the text. It’s very rare to identify the god or goddess worshipped at an Etruscan sanctuary.

“The location of its discovery – a place where prestigious offerings were made – and the possible presence in the inscription of the name of Uni, as well as the care of the drafting of the text, which brings to mind the work of a stone carver who faithfully followed a model transmitted by a careful and educated scribe, suggest that the document had a dedicatory character,” said Adriano Maggiani, formerly professor at the University of Venice and one of the scholars working to decipher the inscription.

“It is also possible that it expresses the laws of the sanctuary — a series of prescriptions related to ceremonies that would have taken place there, perhaps in connection with an altar or some other sacred space,” said Warden, co-director and principal investigator of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project that made the discovery.

Warden said it will be easier to speak with more certainty once the archaeologists are able to completely reconstruct the text, which consists of as many as 120 characters or more.

While archaeologists understand how Etruscan grammar works, and know some of its words and alphabet, they expect to discover new words never seen before – particularly since this discovery is not a funerary text. Permanent Etruscan inscriptions are rare, as Etruscans typically used linen cloth books or wax tablets. The texts that have been preserved are quite short and are from graves.

Besides being possibly the longest Etruscan inscription on stone, it is also one of the three longest sacred texts to date. The sandstone slab, which dates to the 6th century BCE and is nearly four feet tall by more than two feet wide, was discovered in the final stages of two decades of digging at Mugello Valley, which is northeast of Florence in north central Italy.

Other objects unearthed in the past 20 years have shed light on Etruscan worship, beliefs, gifts to divinities, and discoveries related to the daily lives of elites and non-elites, including workshops, kilns, pottery and homes. The material helps document ritual activity from the 7th century to the 2nd century BCE.

— Margaret Allen

> Read the full story and see more images at SMUResearch.com

September 12, 2016|News, Research|
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