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Dental Researcher Working to Halt Progression of Degenerative Diseases and Cancer

Dental Researcher Working to Halt Progression of Degenerative Diseases and Cancer
An NIH-funded study conducted by Kathleen W. Kinnally, a professor of basic science and craniofacial biology at the NYU College of Dentistry, has found that certain widely used medications may alter apoptosis (the process of cell death), thereby offering scientists the hope that by understanding the effects of these medications, they will be able to turn the process of cell death on or off, depending on the pathology.

With heart attacks and strokes, the goal is to turn the cell death process off, thus minimizing overall cell death. Alternatively, with cancer the goal is to turn the cell death process on in order to kill the specific cancer cells. Until recently, what controlled this process had remained a mystery.

Kinnally reported her results in a recent issue of the Federation of European Biochemical Societies Letters, where she analyzed medications that may have the potential to treat such diseases as heart attack and stroke by preventing the cell death process. One of these medications is dibucaine, which is normally used as a local anesthetic.

Using an electrophysiological technique known as patch-clamping, Kinnally observed how certain drugs affect the opening and closing of the mitochondrial apoptosis-induced channel (MAC), a crucial, initial stage of the cell death process. Opening the channel should induce cell death, closing it should prevent cell death. In the case of dibucaine, she found that it causes a rapid blockade of MAC, suggesting the potential for further research that may lead to novel therapeutic regimes for treating disease. Kinnally will also present the results of her study in a symposium at the February 2005 annual meeting of the Biophysical Society.

Understanding cell death has particular relevance to oral health, since certain oral pathologies, such as gingival enlargement, may result when the level of cell death and proliferation are not in balance. For example, a transplant patient taking cyclosporine A is at risk for gingival enlargement, because cyclosporine A inhibits programmed cell death at the level of mitochondria. Oral cancer, a major area of investigation at NYU, is another disease in which cell death plays a key role. In the case of cancer, the cell death program is inhibited by mutations, and cells fail to die when they should. Chemotherapeutic drugs, however, can turn on the cell death pathway to eliminate these cancerous cells.

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