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GEMS Meeting Highlights Inflammation in Cancer

By Eddy Ball
November 2008

Ross, left, and McGee, right, posed with Best Oral Presentation winner Jacquelyn Bower
Enjoying the high point of the event, Ross, left, and McGee, right, posed with Best Oral Presentation winner Jacquelyn Bower. GEMS devotes more than half of its annual fall meeting to showcasing the accomplishments of young scientists. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Samson's talk inspired several questions from people in the audience who were intrigued by the differing responses of target organs she observed in her experiments with transgenic and knock-out mice. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Walkes explains the work behind his award-winning poster presentation to fellow attendees. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

GEMS members
GEMS members mingled as they viewed posters. Shown here are Membership Coordinator Carolyn Harris, left, and NTP Biologist Diane Spencer, a member for 26 years and former GEMS president. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Dan Shaughnessy, Ph.D., left, talks with Biologist Cindy Innes about her research with the Environmental Stress and Cancer Group
NIEHS Health Science Administrator Dan Shaughnessy, Ph.D., left, talks with Biologist Cindy Innes about her research with the Environmental Stress and Cancer Group and Microarray Group at NIEHS. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

McNary, Ph.D.
The seriousness of her topic, hepatocellular carcinoma, didn't stop NC A&T Biology Professor Minnie Holmes-McNary, Ph.D., from enjoying one of the lighter moments of her presentation. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Members of the Genetics and Environmental Mutagenesis Society (GEMS) gathered in the Radisson Hotel in RTP for the group's 26th annual Fall Meeting on October 6. True to tradition, the meeting featured talks by senior investigators on a topic of growing interest to biomedical researchers - the role of inflammation in tumor initiation and progression. There were also eight poster presentations and five submitted talks by talented students, trainees and junior investigators competing for awards (see text box).

The meeting opened with introductory remarks by GEMS President Rose Anne McGee, an NIEHS associate scientific review officer. The agenda was organized sequentially around the theme of "Inflammation in Cancer," moving from basic research into mechanisms of initiation and progression of cancer to a meta-analysis of studies of anti-inflammatory drug use in humans as a preventive strategy.

Moderating the meeting was GEMS President-Elect Jeffrey Ross, Ph.D., a molecular biologist and acting laboratory division director with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ross began his overview of the talks by observing that investigation into the link between inflammation and cancer has what he called "some history."

Ross explained that speculation about the role of inflammation in cancer can be traced back as far as 1863 to the work of German pathologist Rudolph Virchow, M.D. However, Ross said, "there's really been a resurgence of interest in this field recently" with a steady growth of citations in the literature. He pointed to the more than 900 papers published in the first nine months of 2008 alone.

The first talk of the meeting featured NIEHS grantee Leona Samson, Ph.D.( Exit NIEHS, an American Cancer Society Research Professor and director of the Center for Environmental Health Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Samson discussed the ways "DNA damage induced by chronic inflammation contributes to carcinogenesis" by initiating the biological changes that ultimately lead to tumor development.

Using cell lines as well as transgenic and knock-out mice with altered DNA repair capabilities, Samson studies how exposures to alkylating agents, both exogenous and endogenous, such as the nitrosylation of amines and lipid peroxidation, and chronic conditions, such as obesity, can trigger an inflammatory cascade. Alkylating agents produce reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (RONS) that can, in turn, damage DNA, interfere with base excision repair and alter the expression of a host of genes implicated in cancer initiation and progression.

Following Samson, Elaine Lin, Ph.D.( NIEHS, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine (Oncology) at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, explored "The role of macrophages in tumor progression to malignancy." Lin's research has found that macrophages may manipulate the host immune system in such a way that it favors the survival and metastasis of the tumor.

Working with a mouse model of breast cancer, Lin has investigated several processes involved in what is known as the angiogenic switch - the mechanism that controls development of a vascular network in tumors - a crucial step for the transition of the tumor to malignancy. She has determined that blocking the essential factors that recruit macrophages to benign tumors can impair progression to malignancy.

The meeting's final invited speaker was Duke University epidemiologist and associate professor in the Department of Community and Family Medicine Patricia Moorman, Ph.D.( Exit NIEHS, whose talk was titled "Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as chemopreventives for cancer: Are they ready for prime time?" Moorman presented a meta-analysis of cohort and case control studies on the effects of NSAIDS in humans.

Despite promising results in animal studies, Moorman was guarded in her own conclusions from the review of human studies. She warned of the potentially serious side effects of NSAID use as well as the inherent weaknesses of population studies, which rely almost exclusively on self reporting for their data and are capable of establishing correlations but not direct causation. Moorman feels that considerably more study is needed to determine whether the regular use of NSAIDs can be effective in reducing the risk of developing cancer.

Moorman took questions following her talk, the final one of the day. Afterwards, Ross announced the winners of the poster and oral presentation awards. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Supporting Young Scientists

In her opening remarks, GEMS President Rose Anne McGee welcomed attendees and acknowledged the many sponsors of the meeting. McGee expressed her special gratitude to NIEHS for its "continued and generous support of GEMS," which "has helped make possible the more than $50,000 in travel grants GEMS has awarded over the past 25 years to encourage young scientists."

Winners typically use their grants for attending professional meetings they might otherwise have been unable to afford. The GEMS competition gives students and trainees from colleges in North Carolina, NIEHS and EPA an affordable opportunity to fine-tune their presentation skills, network with senior investigators and peers, and learn more about new trends in biomedical research.

Winners at the 2008 GEMS Fall Meeting reported on their ongoing research at Wake Forest University (WFU), North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T), and the University of North Carolina (UNC):

Best Poster Presentation Awards ($250 each):
  • Yu Cheng, lead author of "Genetic and epigenetic inactivation of TNFRSF10C gene in human prostate cancer." Cheng is a doctoral student in the WFU Molecular Genetics and Genomics program.
  • Christopher Walkes, lead author of "Role of p38 in diepoxybutane-induced apoptosis in human lymphoblasts." Walkes is a master's student in the Department of Biology at NC A&T.

Best Oral Presentation Award ($1,500): Jacquelyn Bower, lead author of "ATM and topoisomerase IIα are required for the maintenance of chromosomal integrity through G2/M decatenation checkpoint signaling." Bower is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center working with NIEHS grantee William Kaufmann, Ph.D.

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