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Progress in cervical cancer research

{Dr. Alan Pater}
Dr. Pater demonstrating how human papillomavirus (HPV) - associated cervical cancer markers are separated using the plastic mould (held) and are detected, quantified and analyzed.

Dr. Alan Pater's research on cervical cancer has made significant advances in understanding this deadly disease, which is a leading cause of cancer fatalities of women world-wide.

Because this cancer easily develops resistance to drug treatment, Dr. Pater has worked with other researchers in the Faculty of Medicine to look at the molecular mechanisms of cervical cells. His model has helped discover the events and processes a cell undergoes to push it down the potentially lethal path towards cervical cancer.

Dr. Pater's lab was the first to experimentally demonstrate that the metaplastic epithelial cells associated with cervical cancer are particularly susceptible to a dangerous kind of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection that basically "kick-starts" the cells to be even more prone to further cancer-causing changes.

"When normal cells are growing there are various insults they take that lead them on the way to cancer. The human papillomavirus encodes proteins it normally uses in making warts, but some cells have high risk papillomavirus DNA that leads to malignancy."

Dr. Pater has shown the infected cells undergo distinct stages from mild dysplasia through to high-risk. "It appears HPV is involved in these various stages. The virus won't grow on a normal epithelial cell but high-risk DNA cells are very, very susceptible to going through additional stages on the road to cancer."

Recent work in the Pater laboratory has focused on a newly discovered gene called BAG-1 that is involved in the regulation of apoptosis or cell suicide. "We've cloned this gene and also its promoter. Our results have been quite remarkable. In terms of the BAG-1 promoter we have not only characterized it but observed its interaction with mutant p53, a tumour suppressor gene that regulates cell growth and apoptosis."

Now that Dr. Pater's work is focused quite clearly on the cellular factors involved in cervical cancer, he will continue to look at the various factors involved in drug resistance. "We've done quite a lot with different drugs to see if we can try to control the cancer and act at different stages of the malignancy. We will start looking at these with animals and study how they can be used more effectively."