Dr. Rashmi Kaul wants to end to cancers linked to chronic infections.
“Research has shown that people with untreated or difficult to treat chronic infections develop cancers at a higher rate,” Kaul says. “If we can develop vaccines to prevent these diseases or develop better treatments for infected patients to produce a robust immune response to eradicate the diseases, we will prevent the cancer from ever forming. About 20 percent of all cancers in the world are caused by infectious disease.”
Kaul, an immunologist at the OSU Center for Health Sciences, has focused her research on the role of hormones in the development of liver and uterine cancer. She specifically focuses on how hepatitis C virus-related chronic infection leads to the development of liver cancer and also how human papillomavirus can cause uterine cancer.
Her research has attracted the attention of Cancer Sucks, Inc. founder Rick Horton. Since 2005, Cancer Sucks has made a donation every year to OSU to support Kaul’s research.
“Donating to OSU and Dr. Kaul has been a very worthwhile investment for Cancer Sucks because we can actually see where the donations are being used,” said Horton. “We have been able to help purchase equipment and have been credited with funding several research studies with our donations. This funding helps everyone realize the importance of funding from a grass roots organization like Cancer Sucks.”
Horton founded Cancer Sucks in 1998 to honor his mother, Donna Holland White, who died from cancer in 1996. The organization is run by volunteers who have had their lives touched by cancer and focuses on raising money for cancer research.
The organization has provided more than $107,000 to OSU-CHS, highlighted by a $40,000 donation in 2012.
“Cancer Sucks has played a vital role in developing research strategies not only in our laboratory, but also in other laboratories at OSU-CHS,” said Kaul. “We have been able to purchase cutting-edge equipment that has enabled us to perform research at a competitive level.”
Liver cancer is the fifth most common and third-deadliest form of cancer. Finding the link between hepatitis C virus and liver cancer will reduce the deaths due to the disease, Kaul says. The lack of effective drug therapy and the absence of a vaccine for hepatitis C virus has added to the challenges of combating liver cancer.
“In our laboratory, we are trying to understand how hepatitis C virus tricks our immune system to chronically infect liver cells to establish liver cancer and how hormones may influence, as reports have suggested, increased risk of males developing liver cancer,” Kaul says. “My research involves studying the role of estrogen and estrogen receptors that allow liver cancer cells to escape killing by immune cells. We have observed high levels of estrogen receptors in male livers developing hepatitis C-related cancer. These ongoing research studies will ultimately help us to better understand the factors that may be involved in hepatitis C-related liver cancer and enable us to develop tools to detect and cure liver cancer in its early stages.”
Funds from Cancer Sucks have been used to purchase equipment like a real-time polymerase chain reaction machine, which is used to study the expression of genes, and a BD Accuri C6, a new flow cytometer system, which is used to study various characteristics of normal and cancerous cells.
“Experimental studies at the molecular level can only be conducted with the use of cutting-edge equipment,” said Kaul. “We have been able to equip the laboratory with many modern instruments that have not only enhanced our cancer studies, but also studies of other research scientists at OSU-CHS.”
Master’s and doctoral students have utilized the funds from Cancer Sucks to complete thesis and dissertation studies, while undergraduates, medical students and postdoctoral fellows have been trained in advanced laboratory techniques.
Kaul also has been able to develop workshops for undergraduate students from Tulsa Technology Center, Tulsa Community College and Northeastern State University to study cells using flow cytometry. More than 250 students have attended the workshop since its 2009 introduction.
“These efforts have enabled us to keep educating and motivating our local students towards careers in bioscience or to become cancer researchers,” said Kaul.
Funding from the grants has also enabled Kaul to present her research at conferences around the world and invite internationally acclaimed cancer researchers to campus for presentations about t heir work.
All of these efforts keep Kaul motivated in her quest to end cancer.
“Working together with other researchers and educating our students on the latest technology will only strengthen our resources in the fight against cancer,” said Kaul. “The more we understand, the better prepared we are to end these diseases.”
This story originally ran in the Winter 2013 issue of STATE Magazine.