The University Record, February 8, 1993

NCI grant funds five fellows in Cancer Biology Training Program

By Sharon Drobny
Comprehensive Cancer Center

Five junior investigators have joined the new Cancer Biology Training Program of the Comprehensive Cancer Center, funded by a $1 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The U-M program is one of 10 nationwide funded this year, and involves 33 faculty members from 11 departments.

Jeffery M. Trent says the training program “is an extremely important addition to the Cancer Center programs. The five-year NCI grant will allow us to train exceptional junior investigators to address fundamental biological problems related to human cancer.” Trent is deputy director of the Center and director of the training program.

Sophia Bryant is about halfway through a combined M.D./Ph.D. program at the

U-M. Her research focuses on oncogenes—genes involved in cell growth—specifically looking at factors that affect how genes are regulated. When genes’ regulatory mechanisms go awry, cells succumb to cancer.

Michelle Southard Smith studied gene regulation as a doctoral student at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. She is looking into the loss of gene regulation with aging. She and her research team want to understand how the loss of gene regulation works in cancer cells and what percentage of aging cells lose gene regulation and become cancerous.

Gene amplification in a subset of human sarcomas is the focus of research by Sheryl Jankowski. Sarcomas are solid tumors of the connective tissue, including bone cancers. Gene amplification is thought to be one mechanism that contributes to tumor progression.

She is part of a team that isolated the SAS (sarcoma amplified sequence) gene and is in the process of characterizing it. She and the team hope to determine whether the gene contributes to malignancy in sarcomas.

While at Princeton University, Elizabeth Ninfa conducted basic research on a particular transduction mechanism that is common to a wide variety of bacteria, including bacteria that cause such diseases as toxic shock syndrome. Signal transduction is the way in which information is conveyed within and between cells, specifically protein-protein interactions. Ninfa’s work here focuses on signal transduction in higher, more advanced cells, with potential implications for cancer.

The search for a possible model for protein processing in cells is the focus of research being done by Janet Owens. She is studying a steroid receptor and an associated complex of proteins, including several heat shock proteins. The protein complex is associated with certain activities in specific oncogenes.