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UC-wide Committee Awards Grants to Two UC Merced Stem Cell Projects

June 19, 2007

MERCED - University of California, Merced faculty members in the
School of Natural Sciences have won two important grants from the
UC Cancer Research Coordinating Committee for the 2007-08 fiscal year.

Dean Maria Pallavicini and her team will receive $40,000 to
study how stem cells in the breast differentiate into the two major
mammary cell types. They expect the knowledge they gain may shed
light on how some stem cells in the breast may contribute to the
development of breast cancer.

Professor Jennifer O. Manilay and her team will receive $50,000
to study the role of a specific hormone/receptor pair in the
development of T cells - knowledge that can be applied to how that
pair interacts with many forms of cancer.

“Cancer research by faculty members like Dean Pallavicini and
Professor Manilay are contributing to the strong biomedical
sciences program that is evolving at UC Merced,” said Vice
Chancellor for Research Sam Traina. “This program is one of the
foundations for the developing medical school at UC Merced.”

“Understanding how stem cells make decisions is a critical
question in stem cell biology,” said Dean Pallavicini of the
university’s School of Natural Sciences. “While the potential role
of stem cells for regenerative medicine is a goal for many, it has
only been recognized recently that stem cells are also involved in cancer.

“My study and Professor Manilay’s are both examples of science
that may be used later by researchers working to increase
understanding of how stem cells are altered in cancer. While the
studies to be carried out in Professor Manilay’s laboratory and my
group do not have immediate goals to develop treatments, the
knowledge we gain by studying how stem cells make decisions will
lay the foundations for later research that we hope will directly
benefit cancer patients.”

Pallavicini and grad student Heather Bryan will study the role
of notch signaling in the differentiation of mammary gland stem
cells - cells present even in adult breasts.

“Recently researchers have identified a stem cell-like
population that contributes to breast cancer,” Bryan explained.
“We’re looking at the basic biology of normal cells so we can
better understand what goes wrong when cancer develops.”

Bryan said they will explore the notch signaling process using
flow cytometry to examine cell-surface markers, microscopy to look
at intracellular markers, gene expression studies and a
three-dimensional differentiation culture assay that has shown in
the past that breast stem cells can develop into milk-producing or
duct cells, depending on what hormones and other factors are
present in vitro.

Pallavicini and Bryan are cooperating with Amy Hiddessen, a
researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Hiddessen is
a chemical engineer who develops cell arrays that they will use in
their research.

Manilay and staff researcher Bryce McLelland are working on a
project studying the role of CXCL16 - a specific protein belonging
to a group called chemokines - and its associated receptor, CXCR6.
Chemokines (chemotactic cytokines) are proteins which are produced
by cells in the immune system and influence cell trafficking within
the same tissue where they are produced.

CXCL16 is overexpressed in many kinds of tumor cells, and
T-cells with the CXCR6 receptor seem to be directed to migrate to
those tumors. It’s unknown whether the T-cells are there to fight
the tumor, or whether their presence is just a side effect of the
overexpression of CXCL16 in tumor cells.

Manilay and McLelland are studying how this cytokine/receptor
pair functions during normal T-cell development in the thymus.
Manilay said they may then be able to apply what they learn to how
CXCL16 and CXCR6 function in cancer.

Just from her preliminary data, Manilay produced a presentation
for the American Association of Immunologists meeting in Miami
Beach in May. She expects a paper will follow later this year.

For more information about the UC Cancer Research Coordinating
Committee, see