Annual Report 2021 | Page 6




Since the signing of the National Cancer Act in 1971 , there has been a concerted attack on cancer , and although the battle seems endless , great strides have been made through collaborative research among cancer researchers spanning Hawai ‘ i , the U . S ., and the world . Because cancer is a complex disease comprised of over 200 different cancer types , uncovering better ways to detect cancer early and identify new treatments continues to challenge scientists worldwide .

The UH Cancer Center ’ s Cancer Biology Program ( CBP ) has been making important discoveries in key areas that positively impact cancer incidence and decrease mortality . The CBP focuses on identifying biological causes of cancer , understanding how cancer progresses and moves to other parts of the body , and developing drugs and other therapies to stop disease progression and save lives .
Significant contributions and discoveries of the Cancer Biology Program ( CBP ) include :
n Understanding how gene and environment interactions cause cancers to form , some through damaging key genes . CBP researchers discovered the BAP1 cancer syndrome , a disease in which mutations in the BAP1 gene affect how cells respond to carcinogens in the environment . Affected individuals are at increased risk of developing mesothelioma , melanoma , renal cell carcinoma , and other malignancies . Another CBP team has identified new insights as to how patients with
Fanconi anemia , a hereditary condition that hinders DNA repair , are at increased risks of developing acute myeloid leukemia and some solid tumor cancers .
n CBP teams have also identified other genes involved in cancer and are actively working to understand them and stop cancers from developing and spreading . These include genes , such as RasGRP , which can drive the formation and growth of some skin cancers ; HMGB1 , a protein that plays a role in how prolonged inflammation can lead to cancers like mesothelioma ; and RSK , a protein that is part of the driving force behind cancer metastasis , or spread , in highly invasive brain tumors and advanced melanomas .
n Our biologists are working to understand the processes that underlie sepsis , a life-threatening condition that increases the risk of death among Native Hawaiians with cancer .
n Hawai ‘ i is home to many endemic species , and these may contain natural compounds that could become essential components of new cancer treatments . In the 1990s , cryptophycin , found in blue-green algae , was identified as active against cancer . More recently , hirsutinolide , a compound found in ironweed , consumed as an herbal tea , has been shown in cellular assays to have significant activity against some cancers . UH Cancer Center researchers have also investigated anti-cancer properties of well-known plants like noni and poha berries .