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Researchers study role of enzymes in cancer progression

Biomedical Engineering Assistant Professor Jennifer Leight has received a two-year, $60,000 grant from Ohio Cancer Research Associates to study specific enzymes active in cancer metastasis.

Jennifer LeightCollaborating with College of Engineering and College of Medicine Prof. Douglas Kniss, Leight’s study is titled “Impact of the tumor microenvironment on matrix metalloproteinase activity.”

Metastasis, the spread of cancer from the original tumor to other sites in the body, is the main cause of death in most cancer patients. During the first step in metastasis—invasion—cancer cells break away from the original tumor and migrate through the tissue. In order to escape the primary tumor, cancer cells need to break down barriers in the dense surrounding tissue using enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). Increased levels of MMPs are associated with poorer outcomes.

Leight and Kniss will aim to advance knowledge of factors that lead to increased levels of MMPs during disease progression. During disease progression, one of the first signs of a tumor is a hard lump. The researchers also will investigate how tissue stiffening controls MMP activity during the first stages of cancer progression. Understanding these factors will contribute to the identification of new therapeutic targets to reduce cancer cell invasion and metastasis.

Established in 1982, Ohio Cancer Research Associates is an independent, statewide, nonprofit organization dedicated to the cure and prevention of cancer and the reduction of its debilitating effects through aggressive basic seed money research, cancer information, and awareness. They have provided more than $6.8 million in grants to researchers, which has generated $205.8 million in new money from other sources to continue basic cancer research or move on to translational clinical trials.