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September 11, 2018 - Researcher profile: Ahn to study RNA splicing in brain cancer

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“Being part of a team battling cancer for the better lives of our loved ones.”

MOBILE, Alabama -- Cancer researcher Erin Ahn, Ph.D., hopes that discoveries made during her work on leukemia can provide insight into the treatment of glioblastomas, an aggressive form of brain cancer. The two diseases rank first and second as the most frequent childhood cancers.

“We found that brain tumors, especially glioblastoma, have a high level of abnormal RNA splicing due to defective functions of several RNA-binding factors,” said Ahn, whose work on leukemia was published in the scientific journal Molecular Cell in 2016. “Our experimental data showed that targeting these RNA-binding proteins can effectively kill brain cells.”

Ahn and her team have collected data, applied for national grant funding and teamed up with a neurosurgeon to continue the research. They are also collaborating with scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham on research materials and patient samples.

Glioblastoma, the most fatal type of malignant brain tumor, is most commonly found in adults ages 40 to 70 and in children ages 3 to 12. Glioblastomas recently claimed the lives of U.S. Senator John McCain and, locally, Aubreigh Nicholas, the 11-year-old girl who inspired the Lemon Face Challenge on social media. The average survival time after the diagnosis of glioblastoma is about a year.

Ahn’s work on leukemia found that the SON protein plays a critical role in turning on genes associated with leukemia and provides a potential strategic platform to detect and treat acute myeloid leukemia. Then they found that RNA splicing was abnormally regulated in many other cancers besides leukemia, including glioblastoma.

“We know that our battle to conquer cancer will be long and tough, but we are making our way to achieve our goals,” Ahn said. “As a researcher, I feel I am extremely lucky and blessed to be able to work to support our battle with cancer. It might be a small step that we make every day, but I’m sure that our effort and our sweat on research will contribute to our better understanding of cancer and serve as a fundamental basis of developing new therapies.”

Ask your physician for a referral to Mitchell Cancer Institute or call 251-410-HOPE for an appointment.

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