Hopping along the genome with Hai Yan, MD. PhD.
This post was written by Carole Wegner, Ph.D., HCLD, our new Director of Grants.
When you walk into Dr. Hai Yan’s office at Duke University, the first thing you notice are frogs –everywhere, huge bright green frog posters on the wall and dozens of stuffed frogs of all sizes sitting on every level surface. “What’s with the frogs,” I asked Dr. Yan. He explained the frogs are symbolic of their research efforts which have them hopping along the entire human genome, here and there, looking for gene mutations that are conserved in cancer cells. Dr. Yan’s lab has identified mutations in two metabolic enzymes, isocitrate dehydrogenases (IDH1 and IDH2), which are found in 70% of progressive malignant gliomas. Gliomas are a particularly aggressive form of brain cancer. These gene mutations cause an increase in a new abnormal metabolite that appears to affect a set of chemical reactions that switch parts of the genome off and on at strategic times and locations, permitting a cancerous conversion in a cell.
Dr. Yan’s V Foundation funded research is answering questions about how mutated IDH1 and IDH1 play a role in glioma development and how to target the mutated protein to kill brain tumor cells. These highly specific gene mutations in IDH1 and IDH2 may be the key to an improved understanding of tumor vulnerabilities which could help physicians target a patient’s tumor with the most appropriate drug. Currently, brain tumors are classified primarily by their appearance which is not always enough to clearly distinguish very similar tumor types. Dr. Yan’s research is showing that identifying pathway mutations by genetic sequencing of biopsy tissue from brain tumors provides much more precise information to classify tumors. By fingerprinting the genetic culprit in a tumor, Dr. Yan’s research will hopefully lead to highly personalized treatment plans for every subtypes of glioma patient.
Dr. Yan’s research is funded by a joint grant made by The V Foundation in partnership with Accelerate Brain Cancer Cures (ABC2). ABC2 is a Washington, DC based non-profit foundation which raises money to support cancer research. Many of the students in Dr. Yan’s lab are from NC State University and are part of the Jimmy V- NC State Cancer Therapeutics Training Program, designed to give promising students an opportunity to investigate cancer research as a possible career. Dr. Yan’s research program is a great example of research collaboration, mentorship and ground-breaking cancer research that will directly impact patient care in the future.