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Hormel Institute’s Hinchcliffe leads groundbreaking cancer research study

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A recent research study at The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota is providing insight into the regulation of chromosome segregation and the mechanisms used by cells to prevent them from forming tumors.

Dr. Edward "Ted" Hinchcliffe, leader of the Cellular Dynamics section, directed the research now featured in one of the world's top scientific journals, Nature Cell Biology — released online Monday and to be published in an upcoming print edition of the journal. Nature journals have about 3 million online readers per month in addition to the top scientific community worldwide. Only important new advances and original research are published as either articles or letters in Nature Cell Biology.

Dr. Hinchcliffe and his team collaborated with Dr. Zigang Dong, Executive Director of The Hormel Institute. The research focused on cancer cells with abnormal numbers of chromosomes — a condition called aneuploidy — creating an imbalance in gene regulation. Aneuploidy is caused by mistakes in cell division, where chromosomes inadvertently become missegregated. Cells with too many chromosomes have an increased chance of expressing an oncogene (tumor-promoting gene), while those with too few chromosomes have the potential for decreased expression of tumor-suppressing genes. As a result, cells become cancerous.

Normal cells have a "fail-safe" mechanism that shuts down cell proliferation (growth and division) in the event of a missegregated chromosome. If a chromosome is misplaced during cell division, the cell automatically shuts down. This cellular "fail-safe" device ensures that abnormal cells never become tumors. The problem is, like all cellular processes, mistakes can happen. Understanding the molecular mechanisms that underlie the "fail-safe" is an important first step in unraveling the causes of cancer.

The current study by Drs. Hinchcliffe, Dong and colleagues reveals a new cell-signaling pathway that detects missegregated chromosomes, and directly down-regulates cell growth and division. Importantly, one of the molecules uncovered in this study is mutated in multiple cancer types, including certain pediatric brain cancers, bone cancers, and breast cancers.

Going forward, the researchers will continue to define the molecular players that interact to ensure aneuploid cells are stopped in their tracks.

"This is why we study basic cell biology," Dr. Hinchcliffe said. "It can reveal key insights into the forces driving human disease like cancer."

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The featured work was supported through funds raised during Austin, Minnesota's "Paint the Town Pink" initiative as well as grants from the US Department of Defense and National Institutes of Health.

The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota

Started in 1942 by Jay C. Hormel, The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota is comprised of a group of highly successful medical scientists who are focused on determining the basic molecular mechanisms of cancer development to develop new anti-cancer agents. In summer 2014, The Hormel Institute started a major expansion to double in size, adding 20 state-of-the-art laboratories and better space for its International Center of Research Technology. The project will celebrate a Grand Opening in June 2016. The expansion will add about 120 new faculty and staff jobs over the coming years, growing The Hormel Institute to about 250 employees overall. Construction also began in April 2015 on a new Live Learning Center auditorium and multi-function room on the Institute's west side to better facilitate cancer research presentations and international symposiums.

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Mandie Siems
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