Noting that “one in eight American women will face breast cancer in her lifetime,” Dr. James Turkson, associate professor at the UCF College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, recently presented his research findings that he hopes could someday cure the second most frequent cancer in women.
Speaking at the College of Medicine’s latest Luminary Series event, Dr. Turkson discussed Stat3, a protein that is normally found in the body and used in the development of the embryo, wound healing and immune responses. Usually, the protein remains quiet until the body needs it. But Dr. Turkson’s research has shown that Stat3 can go haywire, become abnormally active and cause the formation of breast as well as colon, lung, pancreatic and prostate cancers.
“Normal cells are controlled by tightly regulated events that ensure a balance between cell survival and cell death,” he said. But cancer destroys that harmony and causes uncontrolled, deregulated cell growth. Dr. Turkson’s research has found that hyperactive Stat3 protein causes this cellular calamity. In fact, the higher the degree of hyperactive Stat3 in the cell, the more invasive and metastatic the cancer becomes.
In the past year, Dr. Turkson’s team, in collaboration with a chemist, Dr. Patrick Gunning of the University of Toronto, developed a chemical compound in the lab called BP-1-102 that deactivates the hyperactive Stat3 protein in breast tumor cells. Without hyperactive Stat3, the tumor cells stop growing, fail to get adequate oxygen and nutrients and die. The exciting news is that the chemical compound works fantastically in very small doses to inhibit breast cancer, meaning it will be less toxic to the patient.
During his presentation, Dr. Turkson showed photos of actual breast cancer tumors in mice models that were dramatically reduced in size – and even eliminated – using the BP-1-102 compound. The next step is to do an in-depth analysis of the compound that would include determining how it travels through the body, how it affects various organs and how long it remains in the body. Such analysis is necessary before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will authorize clinical trials.
Of the 1.5 million new cases of cancer this year, 209,060 are expected to be breast cancer, which affects more women than any other form of the disease except skin cancers. Dr. Turkson’s Luminary Series presentation was the first to be held at the new College of Medicine medical education building and was scheduled to introduce National Breast Cancer Awareness month in October.