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Researchers at the University of Arizona are studying how to slow cancerous growth by inhibiting certain proteins that fuel tumors.

 

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

developments.

 

Slowing cancer growth. Researchers at the University of Arizona have discovered a mechanism for controlling blood vessel growth in tumors, which may hold a key to slowing cancer growth. The research, led by UA assistant professor of cellular and molecular medicine Noel Warfel, was published in the science journal

Oncogene.

According to UA, tumors need a constant blood and oxygen supply for growth. Sometimes to fill that need, tumors “hijack” the process of angiogenesis, or the growth of new blood vessels. Warfel and company’s research has discovered a mechanism tumors use to keep blood vessels growing, and driving cancer growth.

While growing new blood vessels, a protein called HIF-1 activates genes needed for further growth. When oxygen levels are normal, cells will destroy HIF-1 to stop too much growth. But in certain cancerous tumors the team studied, the protein PIM1 kinase prevented HIF-1 from being destroyed and stopping rampant growth. In turn, the research team is looking to use drugs to inhibit protein production and slow tumor growth. 

“Normally HIF-1 wouldn’t be turned on in healthy, oxygenated tissue,” Dr. Warfel said in a UA release. “If we turn down PIM1, we might be able to turn off HIF-1 and reduce tumor angiogenesis and subsequent tumor growth, which has long been a clinical goal hampered by the lack of effective drugs that target HIF-1.”

Researchers found that drugs targeting PIM1 kinase can overcome resistance to  inhibitors and show greater activity against the tumor than either drug alone. In the future, Dr. Warfel hopes to take the research into clinical trials as a new strategy to improve cancer therapy.

 

The future of space missions. The first-ever spaceflight with only private citizens launched into orbit on Thursday, Sept. 16, with an Arizona science teacher on board. SpaceX’s Inspiration4 flight launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with four aboard: businessman Jared Isaacman, physician assistant Hayley Arceneaux, Air Force veteran Christopher Sembroski, and science teacher Sian Proctor, who teaches at a Phoenix community college. The three-day spaceflight raised funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where Arceneaux works.

Sian Proctor is a geology professor at South Mountain Community College, a science communicator who has appeared on multiple TV shows, and on Sept. 16, became the first Black woman to ever pilot a spacecraft. Proctor earned her role as mission pilot by winning an entrepreneur competition. As the second-in-command, Proctor was “responsible for calling up checklists, monitoring systems and executing

commands.”

A documentary on Inspiration4, “Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space,” which details the mission as it happened, is currently available on Netflix.

 

Native knowledge. The US and Arizona Departments of Education have awarded the University of Arizona $2.4 million to expand its Indigenous Teacher Education Program. The program, which is housed in the College of Education, is aimed at increasing the amount of Indigenous teachers who work with Indigenous children, building sustainable relationships between UA and tribal communities, and giving current education more of a focus on Indigenous peoples.

The program is co-directed by Valerie Shirley and Jeremy Garcia, who are both associate professors of teaching, learning and sociocultural studies. They founded the program to prepare Indigenous teachers “to engage transformative teaching and learning practices that consider the unique cultural and political contexts of Indigenous communities.”

The funding comes from both the US and Arizona Departments of Education: $1 million from the Arizona Department of Education and $1.4 million from the U.S. Department of Education’s Indian Education Professional Development program.

“The Indigenous Teacher Education Program is one of many ways the University of Arizona has committed to serving Native American students and communities throughout our state and region,” said UA president Robert Robbins. “This latest round of funding proves that the work that Dr. Shirley, Dr. Garcia and their ITEP colleagues are doing is having a real impact, and I look forward to seeing how this important program carries that work even further.”