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Wistar Receives Refunds for Research Courtesy of PA Breast Cancer Coalition & Pennsylvania Taxpayers

As we file our state taxes, our Pennsylvania friends and neighbors are contributing directly to cancer research through the PA Breast Cancer Coalition’s Refunds for Research program. This week, the PBCC announced that Wistar’s Ramin Shiekhattar, Ph.D., will receive a $50,000 grant to track down the molecular pathways that allow mutations in BRCA1, BRCA2, and PALB2 genes to drive breast and ovarian cancer.

By donating their tax refund to the 2012 Refunds for Research program, our Pennsylvania friends and neighbors have directly contributed to advancing medical research at The Wistar Institute. This week, the PA Breast Cancer Coalition (PBCC), which manages the program, announced that Wistar Professor Ramin Shiekhattar, Ph.D., will receive a $50,000 research grant to track down the molecular pathways that allow mutations in BRCA1, BRCA2, and PALB2 genes to drive breast and ovarian cancer.

This week also marks the kick-off of PBCC’s 2013 Refunds for Research campaign, just in time for tax season. Every penny donated supports research grants for Pennsylvania scientists working to find a cure for breast and cervical cancers. Simply by checking off Line 36 of the PA-40 form, taxpayers will join thousands of other Pennsylvanians who have chosen to make a difference for women and families in PA.

“We are thrilled to select Dr. Ramin Shiekhattar from The Wistar Institute as a 2013 PA Breast Cancer Coalition’s Refunds for Research grant winner,” said Pat Halpin-Murphy, PA Breast Cancer Coalition president and founder. “His laboratory studies on genetic mutations in the BRCA1, BRCA2 and PALB2 genes, which predispose individuals to breast and ovarian cancers, are of vital importance to survivors and families across the Commonwealth.  Dr. Shiekhattar’s outstanding research application highlights the groundbreaking work being done at The Wistar Institute.” 

The Shiekhattar laboratory has a long track record of innovation in the study of how our genes are naturally regulated and how errors in the process of regulation contribute to diseases such as cancer. In 2003, Shiekhattar published a groundbreaking study that defined the central role of the proteins encoded by the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes in repairing injured DNA. Inherited mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 interfere with the natural ability of these proteins to suppress cancer. In fact, BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations are known to cause more than 10 percent of all cases of both breast and ovarian cancer.

With funding from PBCC, Shiekhattar and his colleagues will dive deeply into the biology of mutations in BRCA1, BRCA2, and a related gene called PALB2.  In previous studies, they embarked on a genome-wide screening process that demonstrated how breast and ovarian cancer proteins associate with a variety of active genes. The proteins made from these genes—combined with BRCA1, BRCA2, and PALB2—form a complex they called “Surveillin” for its role in monitoring how genes are read and transcribed into proteins. 

 “We hypothesize that these cancer susceptibility genes act through Surveillin to regulate other genes,” said Shiekhattar. “With the generous support of the PBCC’s Refunds for Research program, we will uncover the targets of Surveillin and decipher its mechanism of action.”

“These studies will allow us to better understand the functional roles for breast and ovarian susceptibility genes in normal cellular function and also provide insights into how inactivation of BRCA genes leads to malignant cancers,” Shiekhattar explained.

This invaluable knowledge about the molecular underpinnings of cancer gives researchers at Wistar and elsewhere a blueprint for developing new and better diagnostics and therapies for breast and ovarian cancers.

So, as you fill out your tax forms this year, please don’t miss the opportunity to donate to cancer research.