Someday soon a tailor-made citrus fruit could be the newest weapon against breast cancer.
A University of Houston-Victoria biology professor and researcher recently received a $10,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue his research on the subject.
Certain bioactive compounds in citrus fruits can slow the growth of cancer cells in the early stages of development, Siva Somasundaram said. However, metastatic cancer cells become resistant to these compounds.
By understanding how these cells become resistant, scientists can develop a genetically engineered citrus fruit that will actually slow the progress of cancer, he said.
A $20,000, two-year research grant in 2006 allowed Somasundaram to identify the mechanism that makes these mature cancer cells resistant in a petri dish. The research was presented in 2007 at the Second International Symposium on Fruits & Vegetables. He now hopes to find out if the mechanism works the same way in a living organism.
"Sometimes things work in the laboratory that don't work in a living system," Somasundaram said.
The same metastatic cells that show the strongest resistance to the citrus compounds also have a stronger resistance to some types of chemotherapy. Somasundarams research holds the possibility of making chemotherapy more effective against breast cancer. This could also reduce the amount of chemicals needed to treat the cancer, which in turn would reduce the harsh side effects of treatment.
Somasundaram will use the $10,000 to test his theories on mice at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The grant will fund the cost of the mice and a lab assistant to help monitor the three-month study at M.D. Anderson, followed by nine months of study in the UHV biology department.
Somasundarams research is a subcontracted part of a $1.3 million research grant from the USDA to Texas A&M University to find new ways to better treat and prevent breast cancer, he said. Somasundaram teaches a cancer biology class at UHV and also serves as nutrition team leader for the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center at Texas A&M University.
As UHV increases its research activities, doors open for larger research grants, UHV research administrator Angela Hartmann said.
In the near future, UHV might enjoy larger grants from such prestigious funding sources as the National Institutes of Health, she said.
"Research is one of the many ways institutions of higher learning better the lives of everyone," UHV President Tim Hudson said. "I'd like to compliment Dr. Somasundaram on the fine work he's doing. He and his fellow researchers are a credit to the quality of this institution."
Increasing research grants is a top priority at UHV, Hudson said.
"I am especially proud of the way our faculty and staff have acquired continually increasing amounts of research funding as universities across the country compete for such funds."
UHV received $2 million in research funding during the last school year, Hartmann said.