City of Hope neuroscientist Yanhong Shi, Ph.D., recently presented her research at the Kimmel Scholar’s Symposium, a gathering of recipients of the Sidney Kimmel Scholar Award, which Shi received in 2006.
Funded by the Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research, the Kimmel Scholar Awards support promising young cancer investigators nationwide. The program strives to improve understanding of cancer biology and develop new methods for the prevention and treatment of cancer. An assistant professor in the Division of Neurosciences at City of Hope since 2004, Shi is one of only 130 investigators so far to have received the two-year, $200,000 Kimmel Scholar Award.
In a poster at the symposium, held in Boca Raton, Fla., on March 9 and 10, Shi described her work on a gene known as TLX, which is associated with brain tumors.
While still a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., Shi made the significant observation that mice lacking a functioning TLX gene produced few if any neural stem cells, the cells that generate new neurons in adult mammals, including humans.
“TLX is a member of the family of nuclear hormone receptors,” explained Shi. “It functions by controlling a network of downstream target genes that regulate neural stem cell self-renewal and neurogenesis.”
Despite TLX’s requirement in stem cells, Shi’s recent work indicates that TLX levels are upregulated in some cancer cells. At the Kimmel meeting she reported that TLX is expressed in cells from gliomas, a type of brain tumor. Her data also indicates that in those gliomas, TLX is expressed in what are known as cancer stem cells — a subpopulation of stem cells that can initiate a tumor from a single cell.
Even more exciting, Shi observed that manipulating TLX levels may shrink tumors. When transplanted into the brain of an experimental mouse, glioma cells typically multiply and form a large tumor mass; however, Shi’s lab has shown that resulting tumors are much smaller if scientists first treat those transplanted cells with reagents that decrease TLX expression.
“Our primary research focuses on neural stem cells in the adult brain — we are interested in characterizing molecular cascades that program these cells to remain in the stem cell state or cause them to become neurons,” said Shi. “We are now using the knowledge learned from neural stem cells to study brain tumors.”
For more information about the Sidney Kimmel Foundation for Cancer Research, visit www.kimmel.org/cancerresearch.