NIH grant funds collaborative research on protein-RNA interactions in cancer

Jeremy Sanford
Jeremy Sanford

Jeremy Sanford, professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology at UC Santa Cruz, has received major funding from the National Cancer Institute for research on the role of protein-RNA interactions in cancer. Sanford and Dr. Dinesh Rao at UCLA are co-principal investigators on the grant, which will provide more than $3 million over five years for their research.

Sanford and Rao, who have been friends since they met in college, have been collaborating for several years to investigate aggressive forms of leukemia that remain highly resistant to treatment. Their recent studies have shown that one determinant of the aggressive behavior of leukemia is an RNA-binding protein that regulates gene expression. The new grant supports their ongoing research to investigate the function of this RNA-binding protein, called IGF2BP3, in the initiation and maintenance of leukemia.

“Protein-RNA interactions are fundamental to the inner working of our cells,” Sanford said. “The expression of all genetic information is controlled through a network of protein-RNA interactions. When this network is disrupted, myriad human diseases, including cancer, can occur.”

In a study published July 29 in Leukemia, Sanford and Rao’s team presented new evidence for IGF2BP3 as an attractive target for novel therapies to treat leukemia. The researchers showed that deletion of the gene for IGF2BP3 significantly increases the survival of mice with a type of leukemia in which the RNA-binding protein is over-expressed. In addition, they found that mice lacking the protein developed normally, suggesting that blocking the protein would not have serious side effects.

“Importantly, IGF2BP3 goes rogue in a variety of other cancers,” Sanford said. “We anticipate that our work on IGF2BP3 will have broad impacts on cancer biology, diagnostics, and future therapies.”

Sanford noted that the preliminary research supporting their proposal for the new grant was funded by smaller grants from the Santa Cruz Cancer Benefit Group and the UC Cancer Research Coordinating Committee.