Basic research is the engine that drives the discovery of new treatments for cancer. In order to understand how to treat and cure cancers, we have to understand cancer’s basic biology. This includes how it forms and how it behaves and changes once it has formed. Researchers at the LCRC perform interdisciplinary, cross-institutional research that touches all parts of cancer. Our scientists can study cancer cells, both in the lab and directly from patients, to help understand what makes them misbehave and form, and what treatments do and do not work on them and why. LCRC scientists are also interested in the fundamental causes of cancer, what changes our normal cells’ instruction manuals (their DNA). LCRC scientists are able to create models of cancer to study what makes cancer appear and what makes different cancers more aggressive than others. They can use cells and animal models of cancer to test promising treatments, in addition to looking at cells and samples from real patients to help inform the next generation of cancer treatments. Basic research underpins everything that the LCRC does, and researchers at the LCRC play on our partner institutions’ strengths in key areas to maximize the benefit that Louisiana residents see from this important work. While there are many different labs in the LCRC looking at cancer in a variety of different ways, our research programs have strong expertise in two major areas in Basic Research. These include “Infection, Inflammation, and Cancer” and “Cancer Biology, Genomics, and DNA.”
Inflammation is your body’s response to injury or infection. Normally this process is helpful and is a sign that your body is responding to a foreign invading virus or bacteria. It is also part of the natural healing process after you are injured. However, sustained inflammation can lead to significant health problems. One of these problems is the development of cancer. In this way, bacterial and viral infections may contribute to different cancers forming by triggering inflammation. For example, this is how hepatitis viruses, which are relatively common in Louisiana, can cause liver cancer. Infectious agents can also more directly cause cancer by through the actions of specific viral genes and proteins. Viruses often need to trigger increased cell growth to make copies of themselves. This increased growth can make those cells become cancerous.
Researchers at the LCRC are looking at the interplay between infections, inflammation, and cancer in many different ways. Some research focuses on how specific viral infections, like the common Epstein-Barr Virus or the John Cunningham virus, can lead to an increase in blood cancers or different types of nerve tumors. Other researchers are examining the ways that interfering with certain stress pathways with drugs called PARP inhibitors may be useful in fighting cancer. LCRC scientists are also looking at ways to harness drugs that may be useful in preventing injuries from viral infections that result from the virus causing too many blood vessels to form as a type of cancer treatment. These are just a few of the cutting-edge areas of research that our scientists are looking at in an effort to improve our understanding of cancer biology and future treatments right here in Louisiana.
Your DNA is like an instruction manual for your cells, telling them exactly what they are supposed to do. One of the most important sets of instructions your DNA has regulates how much and how fast your cells grow. At their most basic, all cancers come about when these instructions are somehow damaged. This causes cells to grow uncontrollably. Normally, there are systems within your cells that repair DNA when this damage occurs, making sure that cells instructions are accurate and that they do what they are supposed to do. Problems can occur when these repair processes are the parts of the DNA that get damaged. LCRC scientists study the different ways that this can happen and how specific defects in your DNA can make you more likely to have cancer. They also look at the DNA sequences of large populations to try and predict who is more likely to get specific types of cancers.
Multiple LCRC research labs are working in the area of Cancer Biology, Genomics, and DNA. Research labs are studying a specific type of breast cancer called Triple Negative Breast Cancer that disproportionately effects minority populations like African American and Hispanic women. This cancer has a specific biology that makes it difficult to treat. LCRC researchers are also looking at how one of the key proteins that helps to copy DNA when the cell replicates can contribute to cancer formation when it’s proofreading function does not work. LCRC scientists are also examining the different DNA changes that can drive early-stage breast cancer into more aggressive and deadly stages of the disease. Broadly, the LCRC’s scientists almost all look at how gene expression, the instructions issued to the cell, change during cancer development and differ between different types of cancer. This understanding of DNA helps us to predict how cancer will behave and provides valuable information as we work to design and test new potential treatments for cancer.