Dong gets $1.7M grant to study colon cancer

Published 10:14 am Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Hormel Institute has received more than $1.7 million in grants to research colorectal cancer.



Executive Director Zigang Dong, who leads the Cellular and Molecular Biology research section at the Institute, will serve as the principal investigator of the project focused on fighting colorectal cancer, the third most-common cause of cancer death in the United States. The study is funded by a five-year federal grant that runs through 2020 from the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Through the use of the Institute’s two IBM supercomputers, Dr. Dong, Associate Director Dr. Ann M. Bode and their team have discovered three small molecules highly effective at suppressing colon cancer cell growth by inhibiting beta-catenin, an enzyme found in many cancer cell types that promotes growth and tumor formation.

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Under the new grant, Institute researchers will identify and test these inhibitors in addition to eight other new, nontoxic small molecule chemopreventive agents that target beta-catenin. Those eight additional inhibitors were identified and synthesized by Institute researchers through structure and computational analysis.

“Through these newly funded studies, we will use state-of-the-art technologies and innovative methods to develop more effective agents that target beta-catenin with fewer side effects for preventing and treating this deadly form of cancer,” Dong said in a press release.

As part of its 2006-2008 expansion, the Institute developed an International Center of Research Technology that features two IBM supercomputers with an array of other research equipment. With the project, Institute researchers will focus on targeting the Wnt/beta-catenin signaling pathway for colorectal cancer prevention. Mutations that result in the constitutive activation of the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway can lead to colon cancer. Wnt(s) have diverse roles in regulating cell fate, proliferation, migration and death.

Late last year, Dong’s team had related work on colorectal cancer published in the open-access journal EBioMedicine that provided a promising strategy for preventing and treating the disease. The study showed evidence that the TXA2 pathway also plays an important role in the processes leading to colorectal cancer and it laid the groundwork for introducing a strategy to target TXA2 for colorectal cancer prevention, early detection and management.

Since 2001, Dong has served as executive director of the Institute. In 2008, Dong became a recipient of the National Cancer Institute’s MERIT Awards recipient. The MERIT Awards provide long-term support to investigators who have impressive records of scientific achievement in research areas of special importance or promise.