Institute awarded $1.7M to study skin cancer treatment, prevention

Published 10:21 am Monday, August 10, 2015

The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota has received a $1.7 million research grant to study the prevention and treatment of sun-induced skin cancer over the next five years.

Under the federal grant, researchers at The Hormel Institute will further investigate a molecular target that could be a key for preventing and treating skin cancer induced by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Based on their preliminary work, Institute scientists have found that blocking the expression and activity of the Leukotriene-A4 hydrolase enzyme (frequently called LTA4H enzyme) — which is involved with triggering the production of an inflammatory molecule implicated in cancer development — decreases the formation of skin cancer.

“We are eager to continue our innovative work on this promising target because millions of people are affected by skin cancer around the world every year,” Executive Director Zigang Dong said in a press release.

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The grant runs through 2020 and was awarded by the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. This is the third major NCI grant — each for more than $1.7 million over five years — awarded since this spring to the Institute, including one given to Dong for supercomputer-assisted research into colorectal cancer prevention and therapy.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the world and in the United States. Incidence rates of non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers have increased in recent decades, with between 2 million to 3 million non-melanoma cases and 132,000 melanoma cases occurring each year globally, according to the World Health Organization.

Sunlight’s UV rays cause various biological responses in the skin — including inflammation, pigmentation, erythema (skin redness or rash) and cell death — making it a good focus for further research.

With the new grant, The Hormel Institute will study various aspects, including the activity of the LTA4H signaling pathway in human skin with varying degrees of sun-induced pathology; the role of LTA4H in solar UV-induced skin cancer; and the effect of LTA4H inhibitors.

Institute researchers led by Dong and Dr. Ann Bode already have published research reporting that the natural compounds 6-gingerol (from the ginger root) and resveratrol (found in red grapes, blueberries and other foods) respectively bind with the LTA4H enzyme to inhibit colon cancer and pancreatic cancer growth.

Skin cancer also will be the focus in September 2016 for an international research symposium being planned by The Hormel Institute for its future Live Learning Center, a 250-seat lecture hall and multipurpose conference room being built on the Institute’s west side. That event will be one of two global cancer research conferences hosted in 2016 in the new facility that will be equipped with state-of-the-art, global-communication technology.