Biochemistry student researches common drug's effect on cancer

Many organizations on campus hold fundraisers to benefit charities like the American Cancer Society. Mark Marinescu, a senior biochemistry major, is a bit closer to the fight against cancer. He's working on cancer research in the laboratory of biology professor Dr. Jani Lewis, on the third floor of Geneseo's new Integrated Science Facility.

Research done by Lewis has suggested that dexamethasone, a commonly prescribed anti-inflammatory medication, may increase the spread of cancer within the body. Specifically, they are investigating the effect of this medication on cancer of epithelial cells.

Epithelial cells are the cells that make up skin and body cavity linings. Lung, prostate, breast, colon and ovarian cancers are all epithelial cancers, generally called carcinomas. Marinescu is working with a cell line, which refers to cells descended from one single cell which originated in a vulvar carcinoma.

Lewis found that dexamethasone can decrease the production of a protein that helps keep cells joined together as a tissue. If this occurs, cancerous cells are more likely to break free from the surrounding tissue and start tumors in new parts of the body. The ability of cancer cells to spread in the body is what separates benign tumors from malignant tumors, and treatable from life-threatening cancer. Cancers that are capable of spreading throughout the body are much more difficult to treat. Marinescu is working to further explore and better understand how dexamethasone functions within the cell to increase the spread of cancer.

One way to investigate this is using a polymerase chain reaction, a test which amplifies a specific region of DNA to allow researchers to look at how well that section of DNA is expressed. This allows scientists to understand how RNA is coded from the DNA and used to make proteins like the one which helps keep cancerous cells from spreading. Understanding how dexamethasone causes cancer cells to spread might provide scientists with a way of discouraging the spread of cancer.

Still, research is full of unexpected setbacks. Recently, Marinescu has had difficulty getting enough RNA to work with for his new trials. Extracting RNA is difficult work, but so far it looks like the RNA he's been able to extract is contaminated with DNA.

"When I'm extracting RNA, I come out of the lab with my shoulders so tense. You can't even breathe on this. I can go through a box of gloves in one day," he said.

Mark Marinescu recently presented his research, "Involvement of three transcription factors in the loss of E-cadherin through dexamethasone treatment of a vulvar carcinoma cell line," at the Rochester Academy of Science's 33rd annual paper session on Nov. 4, 2006 at St. John Fisher College. A poster of his work is on display in the Integrated Science Facility, outside of room 338.