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    Minnesota Partnership Researchers Uncover Cancer Drug Prospects

MINNEAPOLIS — A team funded by the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics has uncovered clues to possible drugs for two rare cancers through research involving baker's yeast and a library of chemical compounds. The team from Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota published the findings in the journal PLoS ONE.

Mayo Clinic molecular biologist Jim Maher, Ph.D., and University of Minnesota medicinal chemist Gunda Georg, Ph.D., led the research. These scientists and their teams operated as a collaborative unit, one of the dozens that the Minnesota Partnership has funded over the past 10 years to answer basic questions about disease.

The two rare cancers, paraganglioma and pheochromocytoma, are caused by errors in the DNA of families and have been difficult to study in the laboratory. The researchers devised a way to make the yeast cells mimic the cancer cells and then compared their growth against more than 200,000 potential drugs to ultimately find a handful of promising leads — potential drugs that would selectively slow the growth of the mimic cells.

"Many patients travel to Minnesota for treatment of these conditions, because we have the clinical experience to help them," Dr. Maher says. "Hopefully this work will lead to future treatments."

Dr. Maher speaks from experience, as a 35-year paraganglioma patient himself.

The findings suggest that drugs might work by blocking the yeast cells' sugar digestion, essentially starving them. The researchers think that the same approach might one day be used to treat patients with the two rare cancers, and they are planning studies to pursue that idea.

Co-lead authors are Mayo endocrinologist Irina Bancos, M.D., and John Paul Bida, Ph.D., a former Mayo Graduate School doctoral student. Other authors include Mary Bundrick, Molly Nelson Holte, Eric Poeschla, M.D., and Dyana Saenz, Ph.D., all of Mayo Clinic; Yeng Her and Debra Evans, also from Mayo Graduate School; and Defeng Tian, Kristen John and Derek Hook, Ph.D., all of the University of Minnesota.

In addition to the Minnesota Partnership grant, the research was supported by Mayo Clinic, the Fraternal Order of Eagles, Mayo Graduate School, and a grant from the Ann and George M. Fisher Endowed Research Fund for Individualized Medicine.

About the Minnesota Partnership

The Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics is a collaboration among the University of Minnesota, Mayo Clinic and the state of Minnesota.