EDINBURG, Texas (Nov. 5, 2013) — A UT Health Science Center researcher at the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) is studying a potential mechanism to prevent skin cancer, thanks to a recently awarded federal grant. Future discoveries could enable development of drugs to complement existing cancer treatment, especially in skin cancer.
The Rio Grande Valley is a hot spot for ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation, one of the chief causes of skin cancer, which is diagnosed in more than 1 million Americans annually. “Because skin cancer is more prevalent than any other cancer in the United States, preventing it and producing clinically effective treatments is very important,” said Dae Joon Kim, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology in the School of Medicine of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.
Dr. Kim received a five-year, $1.6 million Research Project Grant (RO1) from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to study “The Role of TC-PTP in Skin Carcinogenesis.” This is the first new investigator RO1 grant awarded to a UT Health Science Center faculty member at the RAHC Medical Research Division at Edinburg.
TC-PTP, a protein originally found in blood, may be a novel target for the prevention of UVB-induced skin cancer, Dr. Kim said. His lab team discovered that the protein deactivates an oncogenic protein called Stat3 in response to UVB radiation. An oncogenic protein is a protein associated with cancer initiation and formation.
“We think TC-PTP may protect skin cells against UVB radiation by preventing Stat3’s oncogenic activity,” Dr. Kim said.
To prove this concept, Dr. Kim has genetically engineered two types of mice — one with high levels of TC-PTP in skin cells and another mouse with low levels in skin cells. In both sets of animals, other tissues are unaffected. The federal grant will fund these investigations.
Paula K. Shireman, M.D., vice dean for research in the School of Medicine of the UT Health Science Center, said Dr. Kim’s grant is historic for the RAHC. “Obtaining an RO1 grant is an important milestone in establishing an independent laboratory and represents a significant investment in Dr. Kim’s research program at Edinburg,” she said. “We are extremely proud of Dr. Kim’s accomplishments and look forward to the outstanding scientific contributions that he and the rest of the faculty of the RAHC at Edinburg will make.”
The RAHC’s campuses at Edinburg and Harlingen are under the auspices of the School of Medicine while the new University of Texas medical school in the Valley is being established.
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