Lab notes

Lab notes

News and updates  from UF Health researchers

Education for all

For many underrepresented minorities, pursuing careers in cancer research can be daunting. Nontraditional academic backgrounds and lack of exposure to research experiences often are impediments to underrepresented minorities’ preparedness for successful cancer research careers. These minority students and investigators will now have support from the Florida Minority Cancer Research and Training Center, the state’s first and only National Cancer Institute minority institution/cancer center partnership focused on cancer research and training for African Americans. Funded by a $1.3-million award from the NCI — augmented with $320,000 in funding from the UF Health Cancer Center — the center will provide research mentoring and training opportunities that burnish minority students’ and junior faculty members’ research skills, better preparing them for biomedical careers that could impact cancer health disparities in Florida’s minority communities.Lindy Brounley

Hide and seek

In patients with leukemia, cancer cells can embed within the walls of blood vessels and hide from chemotherapy. Now, UF Health researchers are using a two-year, $800,000 grant from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to screen for new drugs that disrupt the tight-knit relationship between leukemia cells and blood vessels. Christopher R. Cogle, M.D., an associate professor of medicine in the College of Medicine, has found that leukemia cells hug the branches of blood vessels. When they do this, they integrate into the lining of the blood vessels. They also change shape, mimicking the long, thin cells lining blood vessels, called endothelial cells. “The blood vessel walls are a shelter for leukemia cells, and we found that leukemia cells can nestle within blood vessel linings and go to sleep,” Cogle said. This can cause traditional chemotherapy to wash over leukemia cells. After some time has passed, these hidden cells reawaken as a form of relapse, Cogle said. Relapsing leukemia is one of the greatest challenges in treating patients with blood cancers. Morgan Sherburne

Embryonic development

Researchers have mapped the cellular origins of external genitalia by studying bird embryos, giving scientists insights into the evolution and embryonic development of mammals and other closely related species as well as clues to the origins of genital birth defects. “We’ve only just started to understand the development of external genitalia — the penis, urethra, scrotum, clitoris and labia — at the molecular genetic level,” said Martin Cohn, Ph.D., a Howard Hughes Medical Institute scientist and a professor in the department of molecular genetics and microbiology in the UF College of Medicine. “At the genetic level, little is known about how the development of external genitalia is controlled. This has only been studied for a little over a decade, lagging years behind our understanding of other organ systems.” This new study provides insight into how the origin of cells that form the genitalia and the location of such cells during embryonic development play a role in genital birth defects. Megan VanRysdam