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With a major research university right in our backyard, a strong military presence and innovative companies spread throughout the metro region, there’s often a plethora of interesting science and technology news to be found in Southern Arizona. Here’s a breakdown of the most interesting recent developments:

Breast Cancer Treatment Reduces Alzheimer’s Risk. A surprise finding from researchers at the University of Arizona indicates that women who have received hormone-modulating therapies for breast cancer are at a reduced risk for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. The investigative study from the Center for Innovation in Brain Science at UA Health Sciences surveyed more than 50,000 medical insurance claims to identify premenopausal, menopausal or postmenopausal patients who had been diagnosed with breast cancer to determine whether women receiving hormone-modulating therapies had a different risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease. According to neuroscientist Dr. Roberta Diaz Brinton, this retrospective study clearly indicates that these breast cancer therapies “do not increase the risk of age-related neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Critically, these therapies can actually reduce the risk of developing these diseases.” The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, examined the hormone therapies tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors—and exemestane was especially associated with a decrease in the diagnosis of neurodegenerative disease. According to 2019 statistics from BreastCancer.org, breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women, and roughly 1-in-8 women will receive a breast cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. At the same time, women are twice as likely than men to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Local Broadcom MASTERS. Two middle school students from Southern Arizona have been selected as entrants in the national Broadcom MASTERS competition—one of the largest STEM competitions for middle school-age students. Both students—Zoe Nickola from Tucson and Matthew Moore from Yuma—previously landed as finalists in the Southern Arizona Research Science and Engineering Foundation’s Science and Engineering Fair. According to SARSEF, Moore’s fair project focused on determining which purification method is more effective in reducing the number of E.coli colonies on sprinkler-irrigated lettuce leaves, and Nickola’s project was on bike sail engineering. Nickola and Moore competed against 3,474 other middle school students from across the country to earn recognition for their research as one of the top 300 in Broadcom MASTERS.

Inhibiting Cancer Growth. Tucson pharmacologist and UA professor James Galligan recently received a five-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue his research into the potential cancer- and diabetes-treating capacity of the enzyme glyoxalase II. According to the UA College of Pharmacy, the enzyme plays a key role in the rate of cell growth, and a therapy targeting this function may help to control the development and spread of certain diseases. In their preliminary study, which appeared in the journal Cell Chemical Biology, Dr. Galligan’s research team demonstrated that when the function of glyoxalase II is inhibited, glycolysis—the process by which cells use glucose for energy—is slowed down. This results in a slower rate of cell growth, which gives glyoxalase II potential for treating diseases, most notably cancer, which results from rampant cell growth. According to Galligan, his team aims to understand how glyoxalase II regulates cell growth and energy production in cells in the short-term, and the ultimate goal is to generate small-molecule therapeutics targeting glyoxalase II for the treatment of diseases such as cancer and diabetes. The enzymes glyoxalase I and glyoxalase II are found in a wide variety of plant and animal species, as well as single-celled organisms, suggesting its functions are fundamental to biology.