Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine

SCOPES Summer 2013

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' S C O P E S M A G A Z I N E J U LY 2 0 1 3 When some cancers strike, chemotherapy seems to be omnipotent. Other times, the deadly cells render the therapy powerless. Understanding the molecular and genetic mechanisms at the root of these two scenarios has the potential to transform our understanding of cancer biology and yield important insights for how to treat various cancers. Dr. Robert Weiss believes that one of the keys to understanding the different driving forces in cancers that respond to chemotherapy and those that don't may lie in the ability of cells to mount an effective DNA damage response (DDR). In studies funded by the NY State Stem Cell Program (NYSTEM), he and his team are investigating how this critical regulatory process operates in stem cells, theorizing that the findings will have implications for the prevention and treatment of cancers originating from stem cells. "We have focused our work on testicular germ cells for several reasons," said Dr. Weiss, associate professor of molecular genetics. "They share many biological properties with the stem cells being developed for therapeutic applications. They are amenable to experimental analysis. And, they are the precursors to testicular germ cell tumors (TGCTs), the most common cancers of young men and a cancer type that is remarkably sensitive to chemotherapy." The team is building on current evidence that suggests that the DDR operates differently in testicular germ cells and other stem cells than in other tissues. "We hypothesize that these unique characteristics originate from the stem cell-like properties of the germ cells from which testicular germ cell tumors originate and that these properties influence how these cancers develop and respond to therapies," said Dr. Weiss. "If we can understand why and how chemotherapy is successful in some cases, we can work to replicate the situation in cases where it has not been successful. Equally powerful will be the opportunity for cancer patients and survivors to learn about new directions in cancer research. "Members of our support groups are eager to learn about the advances in cancer research," said Riter. "Cancer is frustratingly complex, but thanks to basic science research, cancer treatments are becoming more effective and less toxic." Currently the investigators are attending support group meetings. They listen and share information about the pathogenesis of the disease, explaining, for instance, what tumor suppression is and how damaged DNA leads to tumors. In addition, planning for a yearly research symposium is underway. The event will provide a forum for scientists to explain their work in ways that will generate public understanding and support—a skill increasingly necessary for scientists who rely on external funding to sustain their work. "Overall, the program provides an opportunity for scientists to explain their work in lay language, expose them to the concerns of cancer patients and survivors, and educate those living with cancer about new directions in cancer research," said Riter. "It's a mutually beneficial arrangement with meaningful outcomes for all involved." Bob Riter (right) pictured with (from left) Sachi Horibata, Jack Stupinski, Joanna Mleczko, and Claire Anderson. | 13

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