Tag Archives: Cancer Center

Stress responder is a first responder in helping repair DNA damage and avoiding cancer

DNA damage increases the risk of cancer, and researchers have found that a protein, known to rally when cells get stressed, plays a critical, early step in its repair.

In the rapid, complex scenario that enables a cell to repair DNA damage or die, ATF3, or activating transcription factor 3, appears to be a true first responder, increasing its levels then finding and binding to another protein, Tip60, which will ultimately help attract a swarm of other proteins to the damage site.

“This protein is a so-called stress responder, so when a cell senses stress, such as DNA damage, this protein can be induced,” said Dr. Chunhong Yan, molecular biologist at the Georgia Regent University Cancer Center and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Medical College of Georgia at GRU.

“One of the things we found is that ATF3 can bind to the Tip60 protein and promote the DNA damage repair function,” said Yan, corresponding author of the study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Like its partner Tip60, ATF3 is expressed at low levels until cells get stressed, and DNA mutation is one of the most common cell stressors. ATF3 then finds and binds to Tip60, increasing the usually unstable protein’s stability and level of expression. “If you look at the DNA under the microscope, you will see the damage site somehow labeled by this protein,” Yan said. Tip60, in turn, modifies the protein ATM, helping it form a sort of scaffold where other worker bee proteins soon assemble.

While it may take years for a cell to recognize DNA damage, once it does, the response occurs within minutes. One of the early arrivals to the ATM scaffold is p53, a known and powerful tumor suppressor. Once on the scene, p53 helps assess whether or not the damage is repairable. If not, it triggers cell suicide. If the damage is fixable, it will arrest cell proliferation and help start the repair.

There is clearly a protein connection. When researchers knock ATF3 down, Tip60 activation and ATM signaling both go down. Cells start accumulating DNA damage and become more vulnerable to additional stress, setting the stage for cancer and other problems. Previously there was no known relationship between ATF3 and Tip60.

Many factors, including sunlight, even chemotherapy, can cause DNA mutations. Mutations can even occur in the normal process of a cell multiplying, as cells do commonly in areas such as the skin and gastrointestinal tract, and tend to increase with aging. Cancer itself can cause additional mutations as it morphs to try to escape whatever treatment is being used against it. In fact, DNA repair likely is a constant in the body that works well most of the time. “That is why understanding DNA damage response is so important,” said Yan.

In human cancer cells, the researchers have shown that ATF3’s role precedes previously known steps. Future studies include finding a drug that could help cells make even more of this stress responder as a possible adjunct cancer therapy.

“We want to find a drug that can increase expression of this ATF3 in the body, and this increased ATF3 can promote Tip60 activity and overall promote cell response to DNA damage,” Yan said. The body naturally increases ATF3 levels in response to stress, including chemotherapy. In fact, many of the older cancer drugs intentionally damage DNA in an effort to promote cancer cell death. Now that ATF3’s connection to DNA repair has been made, that synergy likely explains another way chemotherapy works. However, additional study is needed to find a more targeted ATF3 activator without the numerous, known side effects of chemotherapy or other known stressors, Yan said.

While the protein ATF3 was known to be a stress responder, just how it responded has mostly remained a mystery. “We really don’t know much about this protein,” said Yan said. A decade ago, his research team found that ATF3 directly regulates the tumor suppressor p53.

“A next logical step is how can we make more ATF3?” While it’s not yet done clinically, in his lab, Yan has measured ATF3 levels in the tissue of cancer patients and found the levels are low and/or that the ATF3 gene itself is mutated. One day, measuring ATF3 levels might also help predict who is at highest risk for cancer, he said.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Hongmei Cui, is the study’s first author.

10 Ways to Reduce Your Skin Cancer Risk

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Warmer days are here, encouraging outdoor activities such as swimming, walking, gardening, or even just being outside to soak up the sunshine. But exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays is the leading cause of skin cancer, says Dr. Loretta Davis, Chief of Dermatology at Georgia Regents Medical Center and a Professor at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University.

“It only takes a few minutes to apply sunscreen, and with today’s sprays, it can be applied in mere seconds. But, surprisingly, only about 30 percent of American adults use sun-protection measures,” said Davis.

To reduce your risk of being among the nearly 1 million people diagnosed with skin cancer this year, Davis recommends following these 10 sun safety precautions:


  1. Know your enemy. There are two types of UV light:  Ultraviolet A and Ultraviolet B rays.  UVA rays, which are constant throughout the day, penetrate deep into skin, producing the aging associated with chronic sun exposure such as skin sagging, loss of elasticity, pigment changes, deep wrinkles, and dry skin. UVB rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and are the cause of sunburn. Even on cloudy days, UVB rays can still burn your skin. Both UVA and UVB rays cause skin aging and increase risk of skin cancer.
  2. All complexions are susceptible. People with fair skin and blond or red hair may burn more easily and quickly, but those with darker skin must be protected too. Sun damage affects every skin type.
  3. Apply and reapply sunscreen. I recommend a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and has a Sun Protection Factor of at least 15.  SPF measures how long it takes sunscreen-protected skin to begin to burn, or turn red, as compared to unprotected skin. For instance, if it takes unprotected skin 10 minutes to burn, then skin protected with an SPF value of 15 will take 150 minutes, or two and a half hours, to burn. A recent report suggested routine use of SPF 70 to compensate for the fact that most adults do not use a thick enough coating of sunscreen. It is said that a “shot glass” of sunscreen is necessary to cover exposed areas of the body and most people do not use enough. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, especially after swimming or sweating, in which case a water-resistant variety should be used.
  4. Proper attire will help. When you can, wear protective, tightly woven clothing such as a long-sleeved shirt and pants.  Light colored, loosely woven clothing may only have an SPF of 2. Consider buying a few items of “sun protective clothing” which have advertised SPF or UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) of 50+. This type of clothing is perfect for working in the yard and taking a walk on the beach, optimally early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Also, a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses are important for protecting the delicate skin on your face and your eyes. Be sure your sunglasses have UVA and UVB protection, which should filter at least 80 percent of the sun’s rays.
  5. Watch out for reflective surfaces.  Know that UV reflection from sand, water, and pavement cement can redirect up to 85 percent of the sun’s damaging rays. So, UV can damage the skin even when you are sitting in the shade of a big tree or under a beach umbrella.
  6. Protect little ones. Children are at risk, too. Keep newborns out of the sun. Minimize sun exposure and apply sunscreen to children 6 months and older who are outdoors. Most skin cancers occur in older adults, but skin damage from the sun begins at an early age. Therefore, protection should start in childhood to prevent skin cancer later in life.
  7. Know when to head for shade. If your shadow is shorter than you are, you’re more likely to get sunburn. This means the sun is near its zenith, or its highest – and hottest – point of the day. When your shadow is short, seek the shade or head indoors to better protect yourself during the most intense rays.
  8. Avoid Tanning Beds. If you love the look of tanned skin, find a good self-tanner not a tanning bed. Artificial UVA rays in tanning booths not only inflict the same type of skin and eye damage as the sun, but may be as much as 20 times stronger than natural sunlight.
  9. Know your skin. Examine your skin from head-to-toe monthly. If you see some change in your skin, have it checked immediately by your doctor. Early detection is important.
  10. Get an annual screening. See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.


“While a suntan may look attractive, it is actually your skin’s way of telling you it has been damaged by sun exposure,” said Davis.


The deeper the tan, the more your skin is fighting to protect itself from sun damage and skin cancer. Keep this in mind the next time you want to bask in the sun.


Dr. Davis is a highly sought-after speaker and an award-winning dermatologist who was been recognized as one of the top doctors in the country. She is a graduate of Miami University and The Ohio State College of Medicine.




Georgia Regents University is one of four public comprehensive research universities in the state with nearly 10,000 students enrolled in its nine colleges and schools, which include the Medical College of Georgia – the nation’s 13th-oldest medical school – the nationally-ranked Hull College of Business and Georgia’s only College of Dental Medicine. The clinical enterprise associated with the university includes the 478-bed Georgia Regents Medical Center and the 154-bed Children’s Hospital of Georgia. GRU is a unit of the University System of Georgia and an equal opportunity institution. http://www.gru.edu

Distinguished Cuban doctor visits GRU Cancer Center

The GRU Cancer Center was proud and pleased to host Dr. Nelido Gonzalez Fernandez this week. Dr. Gonzalez Fernandez serves as the Chief of Head and Neck at the National Institute of Oncology and Radiology of Cuba, Vice President of the Cuban Society of Oncology, Radiotherapy and Nuclear Medicine and heads the National Oncology Group, which advises the Cuban Ministry of Health on oncology.

During his two day stay, Dr. Gonzalez Fernandez was shown both clinical and research facilities, invited to sit in on meetings and meet with a variety of clinicians, researchers and administrative staff.

GRU launches special Initiative to reduce the burden of preventable cancers in Georgia

The Georgia Regents University Cancer Center today launched an initiative seeking to reduce the burden of cancer among minority and underserved populations in Georgia.

Within the cancer-Community Awareness Access Research and Education initiative, modules will be created to concentrate on one or more cancers that are either preventable or may be detected early enough to improve outcomes. Each module will use trained community health workers to deliver evidence-based, culturally appropriate cancer education.

John Damonti, President of Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation

Short-term, c-CARE is designed to increase compliance with prevention and early detection recommendations and ensure access to needed services. The long-term goal is to reduce new cases and deaths from largely preventable cancers.

“Tremendous progress has been made in cancer prevention, early detection and treatment over the past few decades,” said Dr. Samir Khleif, Director of the GRU Cancer Center and leader of the c-CARE initiative. “Unfortunately, the benefits of these advances are not being experienced equally throughout our population. By working collaboratively with churches, clinics, schools, and other trusted institutions to build cancer awareness, improve knowledge and expand access, c-CARE will help eliminate cancer disparities in the communities we serve.”

Thanks to a three-year, $1.74 million grant from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, the GRU Cancer Center will focus its initial c-CARE implementation on reducing the burden of lung cancer in the Central Savannah River Area.  Lung cancer is particularly lethal, causing more deaths than any other cancer among men and women of all races and ethnicities throughout the nation.  The American Cancer Society estimates that 4,640 Georgians will die of lung cancer in 2015, more than the combined deaths from breast, colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancers.

“We are pleased to partner with the GRU Cancer Center to reduce the burden of lung cancer among high disparity populations in the Central Savannah River Area through c-CARE, an innovative new model to enhance cancer awareness, prevention, care and supportive community services,” said John Damonti, President of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation.  “We are excited to learn what c-CARE interventions are most effective so they can be scaled to address lung cancer throughout Georgia and across the country.”

Mayor Hardie Davis

The c-CARE lung cancer module will initially be implemented at 12 sites in the CSRA, including African-American churches, community clinics, and the Salvation Army Kroc Center of Augusta.   Community health workers at those sites will be trained to present current information about lung cancer prevention, guidelines for early detection, and new treatment options. c-CARE participants will be assisted as needed to secure tobacco cessation and lung cancer screening services.  When disease is suspected or diagnosed, participants will be navigated to proper care in the community, including clinical trials.

“The Cancer Center has made c-CARE the cornerstone of our commitment to improve cancer outcomes in Georgia, particularly for low access populations,” Khleif continued.  “Launching the lung cancer module in the CSRA with support from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation is a great beginning. We will soon create c-CARE modules focused on breast, cervical, colorectal and other preventable cancers and expand c-CARE to reach more of Georgia’s neediest residents.”

GRU researcher awarded $2.3 million NIH Director’s New Innovator Award

Dr. Satyanarayana Ande, a researcher at the GRU Cancer Center, has been awarded the National Institute of Health Director’s New Innovator Award for his research on obesity treatment. The $2.3 million award, dispensed over five years, is one of only 50 nationwide and the only one awarded to a researcher in Georgia.

The NIH Director’s New Innovator Award is designed to support exceptionally creative new investigators who propose highly innovative projects that have the potential for unusually high impact.

“This is the kind of award that really highlights the kind of innovative work being done at a cancer center,” said Dr. Samir N. Khleif, Director of the GRU Cancer Center. “This is significant both in terms of furthering Dr. Ande’s work and continuing to drive the GRU Cancer Center toward a position of national prominence.”

Ande’s work is focused on the depletion of fat deposits in white adipose tissues and the exploitation of energy expended by brown fat.

He is a member of the GRU Cancer Center’s Molecular Oncology and Biomarkers program and an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He was recruited to the GRU Cancer Center in May 2013 from the University of Texas Medical Branch.

The GRU Cancer Center is a multi-disciplinary academic cancer center focused on both research and clinical treatment. Its patient-centered approach to treatment includes first-in-the-nation treatment protocols, an experimental therapeutics program that includes specialized clinics for Phase I trials and immunotherapy and a variety of ancillary programs – including music therapy and genetic counseling – designed with holistic healing in mind.

Yoga at the Cancer Center

Program:  Easy Yoga for Cancer Survivors

When: October 8 – December 5; every Wednesday, 4-5 p.m., Friday, 2-3 p.m.

Where:  GRU Cancer Center, 1st floor, Community Conference Room (AN-1305)

What:  An 8-week program consisting of three components: 1) easy breathing exercises; 2) gentle yoga poses; and 3) mindful meditation

Please bring:  a bottle of water, a towel or yoga mat (we will have yoga mats available, but the quantity is limited)

Questions:  Nicole Aenchbacher 706-721-4109

Free thyroid screenings Sept. 30

AUGUSTA, Ga. – About 63,000 people will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer this year, and nearly 2,000 of them will die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. But if detected early, the chances of survival are very good.

The GRHealth Thyroid/Parathyroid Center wants to make sure you get the prompt care you may need by offering free thyroid screenings from 8 a.m. to noon Tuesday, Sept. 30. Thyroid experts will perform physical exams and ultrasounds and offer risk assessments and treatment advice.

“Through the hormones it produces, the thyroid gland influences almost all of the metabolic processes in the body. That’s why thyroid disorders are so significant. They can range from a small, harmless goiter – an enlarged gland that needs no treatment – to cancer,” said Dr. David Terris, the Center’s Surgical Director and one of America’s Top Doctors in Thyroid and Parathyroid Surgery.

Thyroid cancer is commonly diagnosed at a younger age than most other adult cancers. Nearly 2 out of 3 cases are found in people younger than 55 years of age. Most people with thyroid cancer have no known risk factors, so it’s difficult to prevent most cases of this disease.

Symptoms that could indicate a thyroid problem include:

• Thyroid lump (nodule)
• Neck swelling
• Difficulty swallowing
• Enlargement of the thyroid gland
• Hoarseness or changing voice

Walk-ins are allowed, but appointments are preferred as space is limited. Please call 706-721-4400 to schedule a free screening. The Thyroid/Parathyroid Center is part of the Otolaryngology Clinic on the fourth floor of the Georgia Regents Medical Office Building at 1447 Harper St.


U.S. sees more than 14 million cancer survivors, experts weigh in

Photo: Edward Maurer via Flickr

According to a Cancer Progress Report published Tuesday by the American Association for Cancer Research, there are now more than 14 million cancer survivors in the U.S. which are said to be the result of half a dozen advanced therapies approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration this past year.

Hear what GRU Cancer Center Director Dr. Samir N. Khlief and other experts have to say in The Augusta Chronicle.

Gold ribbons go up for Childhood Cancer

Cancer patients and their families helped put up gold ribbons on trees outside the Children’s Hospital of Georgia on Thursday in recognition of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, which is commemorated in September.

CHOG offers the area’s only Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Clinic, and it is staffed with cancer specialists that diagnose and treat children with hemophilia, leukemia, lymphomas, sickle cell disease, various tumors, rare pediatric blood and clotting disorders, bone cancers, and more.

Nearly 13,000 children under the age of 21 are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States. Childhood Cancer Awareness Month helps put a spotlight on the cancers that affect children, survivorship issues, and – most importantly – fundraising efforts for research and family support. Click here to donate to the pediatric cancer clinic at CHOG.

Cancer Center to lead state’s only minority-focused research program

The GRU Cancer Center has been awarded a five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute to lead the state’s only cancer research program focused on better access to clinical trials and cancer treatments for minority and underserved patients.

Working in partnership with the Morehouse School of Medicine, University Cancer and Blood Center, and the Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University – the Community Oncology Research Program Minority/Underserved Community Site at GRU Cancer Center will aim to increase awareness of, and participation in, NCI-sponsored clinical trials and cancer care delivery research throughout Georgia, particularly among minority and underserved populations.

As the only site of its kind in Georgia, and one of just 12 selected nationally, the GRU Cancer Center–led consortium will contribute to the design, conduct, and translation of the national NCORP research agenda, particularly studies pertaining to minority and underserved populations. Key stakeholders and community partners will help to set priorities for community-based cancer research and work collectively to address the historic barriers that have stood in the way of minority and underserved patients participating in clinical trials and other important cancer research.

“We are honored to work with our colleagues from around the state to build on more than a decade of experience serving as a Minority-Based CCOP,” said Dr. Samir N. Khleif, Director of the GRU Cancer Center. “And, we appreciate NCI’s confidence in the ability of the GRU Cancer Center and our outstanding NCORP partners to positively impact the tremendous cancer health disparities that exist in Georgia among minorities and medically underserved populations. This grant is in perfect alignment with our shared commitment to serve all Georgians with the best possible cancer care.”

The GRU Cancer Center is a multidisciplinary academic cancer center focused on both research and clinical treatment. Its patient-centered approach to treatment includes first-in-the-nation treatment protocols, an experimental therapeutics program that includes specialized clinics for Phase I trials and immunotherapy, and a variety of ancillary programs – including music therapy and genetic counseling – designed with holistic healing in mind.