Thursday, August 28, 2014

Superfoods and breast cancer: Study takes a closer look at broccoli and green tea

Could a combination of broccoli sprouts and green tea offer protection against breast cancer — and transform hard-to-treat breast tumors into a type that responds to medication?

A series of studies in the lab of UAB biologist Trygve Tollefsbol, Ph.D., D.O., have generated encouraging findings. Tollefsbol, who is also a senior scientist in the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, has shown that mice given sprouts in their chow and green tea polyphenols in their water are protected against tumor development. Intriguingly, he has also shown in animal studies that the combination can change estrogen receptor-negative (ER-) tumors, which have few treatment options, into estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) tumors, which can be treated with the anti-estrogen drug tamoxifen.

Now, Tollefsbol has received a $1.5-million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to pinpoint the molecular mechanisms behind these effects. "We already have a lot of preliminary data showing that this combination works," Tollefsbol says. "The grant will allow us to extend that research and explore the effects genome-wide."

The immortality enzyme? Telomerase fights aging, fuels cancer

In a lab in the heart of Campbell Hall, UAB biologist Trygve Tollefsbol, Ph.D., D.O., stores the secret to immortality—but you may not want it.

Trygve Tollefsbol is a renowned expert on telomerase, an enzyme that
plays crucial roles in determining our lifespans and fueling cancer growth.
Telomerase, the enzyme in question, is a quirky character. Even though it is dormant most of the time, it appears to play a key role in all three of Tollefsbol’s main research interests: aging, cancer, and epigenetics.

Telomerase’s job is to lengthen telomeres, little caps at the end of our chromosomes that keep the chromosomes from becoming unstable during cell division. (They’re kind of like the plastic cylinders on the ends of shoelaces, Tollefsbol says.) But a little bit gets shaved off with each cycle of division. Eventually, there is very little protective telomere left, and cells age and stop dividing.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Truth and consequences: Building a game to fight the rural HIV epidemic

UAB researcher Comfort Enah is developing a video game to help high-risk teens and pre-teens
learn vital lessons about HIV prevention. An early graphic concept is shown above.

Comfort Enah, Ph.D., a researcher in the UAB School of Nursing, can't build a time machine to help teens avoid making bad decisions in the future. So she's creating the next best thing: a video game.

Working with a team from the School of Engineering, Enah is crafting a simulation of the challenges of modern teen life—including social media shaming, drug and alcohol use, dating boundaries, and the wildfire spread of misinformation on the Internet. The goal is to slow the HIV epidemic among adolescents in the rural South. Enah's dream, if the game proves effective, is to take it to the even more hard-hit communities of sub-Saharan Africa, where she grew up.

Maturity without Maturity

Over the past century, puberty has been arriving earlier and earlier, which means that “teens are spending longer and longer periods with bodies that are sexually mature and brains that aren't yet capable of anticipating the long-term consequences of their actions,” says Enah, an assistant professor in the Department of Nursing Community Health Outcomes. “They need to practice their responses to those risky situations, and games are a way to do that in private and as often as necessary.”