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Patricia Dahia, M.D., Ph.D. and Shou-Jiang (S.J.) Gao, Ph.D.

Dahia, Gao presented CTRC Discovery of the Year award

March 2011

Two outstanding UT Health Science Center researchers, Patricia Dahia, M.D., Ph.D., and Shou-Jiang (S.J.) Gao, Ph.D., have received the Cancer Therapy & Research Centerís (CTRC) Discovery of the Year award.

Dr. Dahia, assistant professor of hematology and medical oncology, and a team of researchers found a gene that, when mutated, causes one type of adrenal cancer. Understandings gleaned from discovery of the new cancer gene, called TMEM127, may extend to patients with other cancers. TMEM127 normally suppresses tumor formation, but abnormal TMEM127 contributes to pheochromocytoma, a tumor of nerve-like cells of the adrenal gland. About 800 cases of an adrenal cancer called pheochromocytoma are diagnosed annually in the U.S.

Dr. Gao, professor of pediatrics, microbiology and immunology, medicine, and molecular medicine and the H-E-B Distinguished Chair for Cancer Research, leads the Tumor Virology Program at the Greehey Childrenís Cancer Research Institute and also works at the CTRC. His research focuses on tumor viruses with an emphasis on Kaposiís sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV).

KSHV is linked to a number of malignant cancers seen in AIDS patients, including the most common and deadly, Kaposiís sarcoma. A tiny molecule called a microRNA acts as a thermostat regulating infection by KSHV. The molecular thermostat is made by the virus itself. It either slows viral replication to allow the virus to hide out in the body ó thereby evading the immune system ó or speeds up replication as the virus mounts an offensive. This work is the first to use a genetic approach to show that microRNA regulates the viral lifecycle of KSHV.

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