Environmental contaminants may help beat breast cancer
Tim Beischlag, 778.782.3071, 604.880.4283 (cell), email@example.com
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035, firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s hard to believe in this pro-green climate that anything good can be said about ubiquitous environmental contaminants such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
But Simon Fraser University Faculty of Health Sciences researcher, Tim Beischlag, has found that these known carcinogens activate a key protein—also found in the human body—that can suppress breast cancer growth.
The protein, known as an aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR), binds to DNA and activates genes that help regulate hormone activity in humans but enable environmental contaminants to trigger uncontrolled cell growth. This leads to a multitude of cancers associated with dioxin- and PCB-laden substances such as cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes.
During the last 12 years, while unraveling how environmental contaminants activate AHR, Beischlag discovered that he could manipulate the protein pharmacologically to prevent it from binding to DNA and turning on genes.
“When the DNA binding was stopped, I discovered that the protein could also stop cell growth and has great potential as an anti-tumour agent,” explains the associate professor.
Beischlag and his colleagues have developed chemical compounds that mimic the beneficial effect of environmental contaminants and used them to disrupt estrogen dependent breast cancer growth. AHR regulates estrogen activity, a hormone involved in many neurological, physiological and developmental processes in the human body.
Given that at least half of breast cancer cases are estrogen dependent, Beischlag is ecstatic that his research could generate treatments that that have less side effects than chemotherapy and radiation.
Beischlag says that his work demonstrates the importance of funding basic or pure research that isn’t initially tied to applications. “It wasn’t a desire to cure breast cancer that channeled me in this direction,” says the doctoral graduate of the University of Toronto. “I was academically fascinated by how genes turn on and off.”
Beischlag will be among five speakers at Fashion Fusion Fiesta, a breast cancer research fundraiser to raise money for the 2009 Weekend To End Breast Cancer. This is the third consecutive year that SFU staff members have hosted the fundraiser at SFU’s Diamond Alumni Centre. The event, Friday Feb. 6 (doors open at 5:45 pm), features a period fashion show narrated by Ivan Sayers, an internationally renowned fashion historian, presentations about cancer research and a light buffet.
This year’s fashion show highlights the impact of foreign influences on North American attire. Tickets are $25 each. To reserve, email email@example.com.
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