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Researchers at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center will investigate the role of proteins linked both to human sexual reproduction and cancer tumor formation thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

The $350,000 grant from the DoD’s Defense Medical Research and Development Program will fund direct research costs for two years for Angelique Whitehurst, PhD, assistant professor with the University of Texas’s Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Cyrus Vaziri, PhD, associate professor with the UNC School of Medicine and UNC Lineberger member, to determine what role a class of antigens known as CT (cancer/testes) antigens play in tumor formation and whether they represent a target for future therapies. Research will be conducted in the labs of Drs. Whitehurst and Vaziri.

In normal human biology, the proteins known as antigens provoke a response from the immune system, most often serving to bind immune cells such as antibodies to outside invaders. The role of CT-antigens is not well understood, and one of the purposes of the grant will be to further develop understanding of the basic biological functioning of the proteins.

If the genes are found to be required for a cancer’s proliferation and survival, then pharmaceuticals developed to inhibit their function may prove to be effective therapies for a variety of cancers.

“The proposal seeks to test the idea that CT-antigens help cells tolerate DNA damage, including DNA damage inflicted by chemotherapeutic agents. The long term goal is to harness this information and develop ways of blocking DNA damage tolerance and ameliorating chemoresistance, specifically in cancer cells,” said Dr. Vaziri.