Annual Report 2002 - Cornell University
003 Selected Faculty Research

16 Treating cancer with retinoic acid

Noa Noy, Nutritional Sciences, discovered a way to treat several cancers with retinoic acid (RA), a derivative of vitamin A, with fewer side effects. RA regulates gene transcription and therefore governs many functions in the body, including cell division and the development and spread of cancer cells. The process of turning genes on and off requires high doses of medication, and the side effects of the high levels of RA can be devastating. By making tumor cells up to a thousand times more sensitive to RA, Noy's discovery will enable much smaller doses of RA to be used—even the amount of RA that naturally occurs in the body. Noy found that a protein called cellular RA-binding protein II (CRABP-II) in the cell can enhance the ability of RA to inhibit the proliferation of breast cancer cells, requiring less RA to suppress tumor growth. CRABP-II exerts these effects by activating the transcriptional regulator protein called retinoic acid receptor (RAR), which binds to certain DNA sequences and turns targeted genes on or off. RA has been used to treat prostate cancer and leukemia. Experiments are underway using retinoids to treat breast, head-and-neck cancers, diabetes, arteriosclerosis, and emphysema.

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