HOUSTON – (March 9, 2016) – When researchers create models to study complex human diseases, they typically use yeast, fruit flies, mice or maybe even computers. But, the use of stem cells is not so common.
Recruited with a $2 million grant from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), stem cell biologist Dung-Fang Lee, Ph.D., is developing cancer models with stem cells at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).
“We can model human tumors with a few skin cells,” said Lee, a 2008 graduate of The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston, which is operated by UTHealth and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. “These models will help us fight cancer.”
Thanks to a technological breakthrough in 2006 in Japan, researchers can convert skin cells into stem cells and use them to create disease models, he said. These cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells.
Lee was the first to use stem cells to model a genetic disorder called Li-Fraumeni syndrome, which affects children and young adults and increases their risk of brain tumors and bone cancer.
By comparing models created from the cells of someone with the disease and a family member without it, he was able to identify molecular mechanisms associated with the condition.
“This gives us the information we need to develop drug targets,” Lee said. “We will be testing lots of compounds to see which are the most effective in treating this condition that affects an estimated 1 in 10,000 people.”
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