Student working on cancer biology uses cellular pathways to study tumor suppression

According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the most frequently diagnosed type of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related death for men in America.

In the laboratory run by Robert Silverman in the Department of Cancer Biology at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, the prostate cancer model is being used to understand tumor suppression in relation to a specific cellular pathway, the (2-5A) synthetase (OAS)- RNase L pathway.

According to third-year student Danika Baskar, who works as a research assistant in the Silverman Lab, the implications of this research are broad, particularly in terms of improving treatments for viral infections and specific types of cancer.

“The main research focus of our lab is looking at the intersection of innate immunity and tumor suppression,” said Baskar. “A lot of the work that we do, we use a lot of different kinds of viral infection methods to basically look at how the host cells respond to the viral infection.”

The team initially started by examining the role of RNase L in relation to its involvement in cellular processes like autophagy, inflammation and apoptosis. RNase L is the main enzyme involved in the (2-5A) synthetase (OAS)-RNase L pathway, a classical innate immune pathway that serves a vital function in blocking viral infections. This research could have a significant impact on the way viral infections and certain types of cancer are treated.

Gradually, the research expanded its focus to include studying the pathway’s regulation of tumor suppression, particularly in relation to hereditary prostate cancer. The researchers are looking to target other types of cancer in the future.

“There’s another project going on in our lab where we’re basically trying to find oncolytic viral therapy for late-stage metastatic cancer, which is basically combining a virus that specifically targets cancer cells with a drug to kind of provide treatment for that,” said Baskar.

Although Baskar herself works with lung cancer and prostate cancer cells, there are postdoctoral researchers in the facility who are using mouse models to examine tumor growth and regulation in relation to the cellular pathway.

The team recently published a paper titled “RNase L is a negative regulator of cell migrationin Oncotarget, of which Baskar was a co-author. The paper was the culmination of a long-term partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

According to Baskar, there has been close to 20 years of research leading into the recently published paper. She believes her involvement in the research has granted her a unique opportunity to participate in the entire research process, from collaborating with other investigators, to identifying points of inquiry, to developing a viable experimental approach and contributing to a relevant, timely project. She recently presented and placed second overall at a cancer research symposium hosted by Colleges Against Cancer.

“Being in the lab and actually being able to contribute to something that’s really at the forefront of research right now, that’s something that I’m really interested in continuing in my future as well,” said Baskar. “I’m just really glad to be a part of a team who enjoy working with students and who really fostered that kind of learning environment in a lab too.”

Baskar says that in the future, the research team would like to introduce various inhibitors to RNase L to understand how that would affect innate immunity and tumor suppression. Another current project in the laboratory is examining the (2-5A) synthetase (OAS)- RNase L pathway in relation DNA damage repair, an up-and-coming area of research within biomedical research.

Baskar will be graduating this May and plans to continue research for the following year while she applies to medical schools. As an international studies major on the global health track with a minor in medical anthropology, she is also interested in research in the social sciences.

Ultimately, she would like to work in the international public health field. By conducting research related to biomedical or social sciences, she aims to develop sustainable community programs in underdeveloped countries.