Cancer-related gene research leads to $2.6M grant

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carbone and yangMichele Carbone and Haining Yang

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a five-year, $2.6-million grant to University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center researchers to study the role of the BAP1 gene in human cancer development and cell metabolism.

The research team is led by Michele Carbone and Haining Yang.

“This grant adds to our two already funded NIH grants and one grant from the Department of Defense, confirming the leadership of the Hawaiʻi team as the top federally-funded research team in the U.S. to conduct research on mesothelioma, a cancer developed frequently in those exposed to asbestos,” said Carbone.

Carbone discovered the role of genetics in mesothelioma while studying a cancer epidemic in remote villages in Turkey. Carbone, Yang and collaborators continued studying genetics in mesothelioma by conducting molecular genetic studies of U.S. families with high incidence rates of cancer and found a condition they named “BAP1 cancer syndrome.”

Individuals with BAP1 cancer syndrome inherit a BAP1 gene mutation, leading to at least one and often several cancers in their lifetime. The BAP1 mutation greatly increases an individual’s susceptibility to environmental carcinogens such as asbestos, ultraviolet light and ionizing radiations, increasing the risk of the individual developing mesothelioma, melanoma and other cancers.

Carbone recently discovered that BAP1 mutations change cell metabolism. “On one hand, BAP1 mutations cause cancer, and on the other hand, mesotheliomas that develop in carriers of BAP1 mutations are less aggressive, probably because of the altered cell metabolism,” said Carbone. The funds of the most recent grant will be used to investigate the ways in which BAP1 regulates cancer cell metabolism.

Added Carbone, “We hope that by learning how BAP1 mutations slow down the growth of mesothelioma we find a way to make all cancers less aggressive. Our discoveries, confirmed by numerous research teams in more than 700 research and medical articles, have led to preventive and early detection measures that have and continue to save lives.”