Mice and professor aid research

Assistant professor William Kerr and a few lab mice recently made a major contribution to the war against cancer. Kerr, who works at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Research Center, was able to use the mice to make strides in the area of bone marrow transplantation.

Kerr said it took more than three years to create the genetically altered mice and an estimated $300,000 in grant funding from the National Institute of Health to complete the study. USF receives a percentage of the incoming grant money to Kerr from the NIH for indirect support, such as building management. But all of the money from the NIH came from taxpayer dollars.

“It’s important that people know when they pay their tax dollars. Some of that money comes back to support scientific research,” Kerr said.

Kerr recently investigated the relationship between the gene SHIP and a patient’s rejection of noncompatible bone marrow transplants, often donated from a nonrelative, also known as allogeneic transplants. SHIP is the gene that helps a patient’s body distinguish the difference between its tissue and that of the donor’s.

In any instance when outside tissue is introduced into a body, two immune systems are involved: that of the donor and that of the patient, Kerr said.

“I like to compare it to two armies – the immune system of the patient and the one of the donor. The removal of the SHIP gene keeps the two at peace,” Kerr said.

Kerr said that the peace between the immune systems is vital to the well-being of the patient. The struggle between the immune system to cleanse itself is known as graft-vs. host disease and is the leading cause of post-transplant deaths.

Kerr said he was able to complete successful allogeneic transplants in mice by using pharmaceuticals to suppress the levels of SHIP in their bodies prior to the transplant. The mice survived without the complications of graft-vs. host disease. Their survival marks a sign of progress in winning the fight against cancer.

“The reaction of the mice may be different from that of humans; however, this could mean a lot for cancer patients,” Kerr said. “Previously many patients that could have been saved by a bone marrow transplant died because they didn’t have a compatible donor, and the risks involved in a noncompatible transplant were just too high. If this study holds true, nobody could not find a suitable donor.”

The Leukemia Society recently recognized Kerr for his research, and he will be receiving grant money from it for further research in the field of allogeneic transplants.

Contact Yolanda Best at oracleeditor@yahoo.com