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Freeman appointed to National Cancer Institute study section

San Antonio (Aug. 12, 2003) — James W. Freeman, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of medicine/division of medical oncology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC), has been appointed a charter member of the new tumor cell biology study section at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The NCI is an institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The tumor cell biology study section will review grant applications in two areas — those that focus on signals initiating cell growth and those that concentrate on growth factor regulation of cancer formation and progression. "What happens in cancer cells is there is loss of control with signals, so that they essentially are turned on all the time," Dr. Freeman said. He also serves as a standing member of the NIH/NCI subcommittee F, which reviews career development awards and training grants.

Dr. Freeman joined the UTHSC faculty in 1998 and heads a research program that focuses on the genetics and biology of pancreatic cancer. One major research interest is transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta), which blocks cell growth under normal circumstances but loses this ability in the early stages of pancreatic cancer development. Dr. Freeman also studies other signaling pathways in pancreatic cancer.

He conducts preclinical testing in orthotopic rodent models of pancreatic cancer. An orthotopic model is one in which human tumor cells are implanted into the organ under study — in this case the pancreas. "We then observe whether blocking various signaling pathways can prevent tumor growth within the pancreas," Dr. Freeman said. "This enables us to test new pharmacologic agents that either activate or block activation of these pathways."

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. The five-year survival of patients is less than 4 percent. "There are no screening tools for pancreatic cancer," Dr. Freeman said. "At the time of diagnosis, there is usually metastatic spread of disease to distant organs including the liver. The environment within the pancreas supports rapid growth of fibroblasts, another type of cell, which are believed to promote growth of blood vessels and rapid spread of the tumor cells."

Dr. Freeman formerly was with Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and came to UTHSC from the Lucille Markey Cancer Center at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. In the past year he has published two papers in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, a paper in Oncogene and a paper in Cancer Research.

Contact: Will Sansom