Can Low Oxygen Levels in the Retina Promote Retinoblastoma

Retinoblastoma is a Cancer in the light sensitive section of the eye called retina. It is a rare and a very treatable type of cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, 300 children under the age of 5 are diagnosed with this cancer every year in the United States. Organs of the human body follow a bundle of chemical instructions called genes in the cells of our body. A single chemical instruction is called a Chromosome. We inherit the genes and chromosomes from our parents. When changes in the molecular structure (technically called Mutation), takes place in a particular chromosome 13 of gene RB1, Retinoblastoma occurs. Researcher Dolores Takemoto, a Kansas State University professor of biochemistry, has discovered new facts about this cancer and treatment, recently (March 2010). This article tries to gain further insight into her findings.

Knowledge Gained from Research:

  • In Retinoblastoma, the harmful cancer cells form a lump or tumour in tissues of the retina of an eye.
  • By the time tumour in an eye is detected, it spreads to the other eye, making the child permanently blind.
  • Dr.Takemoto discovered that a protein called the Coonexin46 is related is to a condition called Hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the tissues resulting in their death).
  • Proteins are naturally occurring chemical substances which provide nourishment to the tissues of our body.
  • Our eye is the only naturally occurring hypoxic tissue and Cancer cells require hypoxic environment for their growth too.
  • Awareness of these two facts led to a crucial discovery that the protein Coonexin46 should play a vital role in nourishing the cancer cells of Retinoblastoma.
  • The protein Coonexin46 must be present inside the Cancer cells to provide them nourishment.
  • It is because cancer cells seal themselves off completely from the oxygen providing blood vessels, creating an oxygen deficient hypoxic environment.
  • Experiments conducted by Dr.Takemoto on mice in her laboratory revealed that a component called small interfering ribonucleic acid or siRNA can prevent the growth of cancer tumor in retina by suppressing the protein Coonexin46.
  • Dr. Thu Annelise Nguyen, Associate Professor of Toxicology at K-State, a colleague of Dr.Takemoto, has found that every time there is a lack of oxygen anywhere in the body, this protein Coonexin46, appears there. Her research found Coonexin46 in breast and colon cancer samples too. The National Eye Institute funded the research of these scientists. Further research will now be focused on discovery of anti-cancer drugs based on these findings.

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