EHSC Investigators Tackle Cancer

Cancer is a disease outcome the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) takes very seriously. Check out what NIEHS is Doing on Cancer. Locally, investigators in the Environmental Health Sciences Center at Oregon State University contribute to NIEHS research, with several of our investigators looking at preventative treatments for various types of cancer. 

Using diet to combat cancer

The role of nutrition in cancer prevention is at the heart of research of many investigators. Dr. Mustacich and Dr. Emily Ho look at cancer as a preventable disease, contingent upon a diet replete with fruits and vegetables. Dr. Ho evaluates the impact of nutritional deficiencies in the development of prostate cancer, as well as the addition of dietary compounds such as sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables. Her lab has evidence that sulforaphane can prevent tumor development through epigenetics, by ‘turning off’ genes dysregulated by cancer. Dr. Mustacich has received funding from the American Cancer Society to evaluate the ability of Vitamin E to diminish chemotherapeutic side effects. In addition, in a study funded by NIEHS, her laboratory has shown that high dose Vitamin E increases the elimination of environmental carcinogens from the body and minimizes the harmful effects of carcinogen exposure.  
Although family history and ethnic background
play an important role in one’s risk for cancer –
dietary habits and nutrition also play a key role.
~Dr. Emily Ho

Using biomarkers as preventative benchmarks

While Drs. Mustacich and Ho look at external factors such as diet and nutrition, Dr. Arup Indra looks at internal factors like genes to help predict risk of disease. His team together with the lab of Drs. Gitali Ganguli-Indra and Mark Leid has identified CTIP2 as a biomarker of head and neck cancer, as this gene is highly expressed in these cancers. Another example of a biomarker is BRCA1, the gene associated with increased risk of breast cancer. Dr. Indra’s research team is using CTIP2 as a biomarker of head and neck cancer. A biomarker is any factor that can help identify an outcome, either preventative or causative. In addition, the Indra lab has identified certain proteins that regulate UV-induced DNA damage, such as the Retinoid-X-Receptors. As UV rays from the sun are known to play an important role in melanom and non-melanoma skin cancers, this work has important implications in the prevention of certain skin cancers.

Dr. Siva Kolluri uses cancer cells and normal cells to evaluate differences between them in an effort to tease out molecular differences between the two. Dr. Kolluri’s laboratory screens for compounds that are selectively effective against cancer cells. His research has identified a new class of therapeutics targeting the Bcl-2 protein, which functions to protect a variety of cancer cells, including leukemia, lung, liver, prostate and breast cancer cells. He and his team are testing therapeutics that can actually reverse the role of Bcl-2 from a cancer protector to a cancer killer in animal cancer models. They also discovered that leflunomide, an anti-inflammatory drug, targets the aryl hydrocarbon receptor protein and is effective against melanoma cells.