Every year, the proceeds from March Hoops To BEAT Blindness are dedicated to a specific research program at the Kellogg Eye Center. The program is chosen for its innovative approach and focus on treating and finding cures to blinding conditions.
I am happy to announce all donations from March Hoops to BEAT Blindness 2015 will go to support into the causes of retinoblastoma and other cancers!!!!
Dr. Rajesh Rao, M.D., is studying how epigenetics influence the development of eye and orbit cancers, and has focused on retinoblastoma, a potentially blinding and deadly eye cancer that affects infants and young children. Current reatments are limited to removal of the eye, chemotherapy, radiation, and laser or freezing therapies. Even though these treatments result in good survival rates, there can be other side effects of these treatments, including increasing the risk of a second cancer, and blindness in one eye. Unlike for other cancers like breast and prostate cancer, there are no therapies that target the molecular vulnerabilities of the retinoblastoma and other eye and orbit cancers. New treatments are needed.
As part of his study, Dr. Rao studied the tumor samples of all retinoblastoma patients in the UofM health system - including Brendan's own tumor sample that was taken when his retinoblastoma tumor was removed!
What is Epigenetics?
Epigenetics refers to how genes are turned on and off in ways that are not affected by changes in DNA sequence. Specific epigenetic proteins in cancer can abnormally turn on silenced genes that would otherwise promote cancer growth. This process has been seen in many other cancers outside of the eye, and discovery of these genes have fueled the creation of a new class of anti-cancer drugs that may revolutionize cancer care. However, few research groups search for these proteins in eye and orbit cancers like retinoblastoma. Dr. Rao's goal is to search for these epigenetic proteins in eye tumors so that one day these new class of drugs could be used to treat retinoblastoma and other eye cancers.
What does this protein do?
The protein Dr. Rao identified is an enzyme called a methyltransferase. This protein opens and closes DNA, and causes specific growth genes to turn on, and genes that protect against abnormal growth to turn off. Dr. Rao detected its presence in the retinoblastoma samples he studied. There are inhibitors of this protein currently in clinical trial and they are being used against cancers outside of the eye.
Did You Know?
Restinoblastoma accounts for 12% of infant cancers world-wide.
Retinoblastoma is the 3rd most common pediatric tumor world-wide.
There are 250-300 cases of retinoblastoma each year in the United States.