Posted on | June 24, 2011 | Comments Off
Andrea Fleig, a Mānoa cell and molecular biology adjunct professor, was honored with the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center’s Weinman Innovator Award. Fleig’s proposal was based on her laboratory’s discovery of the critical role of a unique magnesium-transporting protein in the regulation of cell growth and proliferation. The proposal was submitted with collaborators Reinhold Penner and Toshihiko Kawamori of the UH Cancer Center, and David Horgen of Hawaiʻi Pacific University.
The Weinman Award, an annual grant of $50,000, is directed to support innovative translational research with the potential to develop new diagnostic or therapeutic approaches to cancer.
Fleig and colleagues first discovered the molecular nature and the physiological function of the ion channel named TRPM7 and demonstrated its central role for cell growth and proliferation. Ion channels act like tiny gates and pores in the cell’s membrane, allowing entry or exit of vital molecules, in this case the divalent ion magnesium. Magnesium is essential for cells to divide and proliferate, and this is particularly so for cancer cells. While screening marine-derived natural products to interfere with the normal function of the TRPM7 channel, Fleig and colleagues identified a natural compound isolated from a Hawaiian soft coral, which acts to stop multiplication of cancer cells by interfering with the magnesium status of these cells.
“If we can confirm our hypothesis that the natural compound reduces or even prevents tumor development in our animal models of colon cancer, then we can expand this approach further and pave the way for clinical use in cancer patients,” says Fleig.