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WSU Professor's Work May Help Slow The Spread Of Cancer

Briana O'Higgins

Some people might not think of Wichita State University as a medical research institution, but one assistant chemistry professor is researching how cancer cells spread throughout the body and hopes that one day her work will help slow metastasis.

Dr. Moriah Beck hasn't been on the Wichita State campus for very long, but since her arrival last year from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill she has been growing her student research team and setting up a lab to continue her innovative cancer research.

Dr. Beck uses a variety of tools to study a protein called Palladin, which was discovered by Beck's collaborator, Dr. Carol Oaty in 2000.

"I am kind of someone who likes to study things that nobody else knows about, and Palladin is one of those newly discovered proteins," says Beck.

"So there is not a lot of competition, as I see it, and there is a lot to know, so it is a challenge in that way because you don't have a lot to build off of and you are always going into these uncharted areas."

To put it simply, Palladin interacts and binds with Actin, which is the most prevalent protein in our cells, and accelerates its ability to move freely, also known as motility.

Palladin works in normal cell motility, like wound healing and fetal development. But it also works in not so normal cell motility, like when cancer metastasizes or spreads.

"Palladin is up-regulated, so there is more of this protein made in those cells that are metastasizing," says Beck.

"There have also been a couple mutations associated with pancreatic and breast cancers in this protein. so we are interested in looking at, structurally, how this protein interacts with Actin as well as how it can modify the polymerization of actin of this organization of the network chain."

Beck says that it will probably be a long time before her research is translated into anything that is used in clinics, but she is hopeful one day it can be used to treat cancer.

"Right now we have absolutely no drugs that target specifically metastasis," she says. "If we can figure out how Palladin functions in metastasizing cells, if there is a protein interaction we can interfere with by designing a drug, that would be an eventual outcome."

In the meantime she is enjoying sharing her research and collaborating with Wichita State students.

"I was trained at medical schools but I came from an undergraduate institution that was very similar to Wichita State, and that is kind of what i identify with," says Beck. "I had such a good experience there and good interaction with my professors."

Beck says many students looking for research opportunities at the graduate level don't know research like hers is going on at Wichita State, but she hopes the word gets out and add new recruits to her Palladin team.