at Hollings Cancer Center
Guest: Dr. Yusuf Hannun – Biochemistry & Molecular
Host: Dr. Linda Austin – Psychiatry
Linda Austin: I’m Dr. Linda Austin. I’m interviewing Dr. Yusuf Hannun who is
Professor of Biochemistry and Associate Director of Research at Hollings Cancer Center
here at the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. Hannun, Hollings
is certainly a leader in the southeast in the area of cancer and we offer
clinical services, certainly, to patients as well as training opportunities
but, in this podcast, let’s focus on the research activities at Hollings Cancer Center
where you are Director. Can you tell us
some of the areas of most active research that we have going on here?
Yusuf Hannun: Sure, Linda. The Hollings Cancer
Center has been
developing programs of research for at least the last 10 years or so and in the
last decade, has focused on four primary, basic, research programs. In addition to the basic research programs,
the Hollings Cancer Center
develops and promotes clinical and translational research. If we focus on the basic research aspect
today, the four main research programs are as follows. The first one is focused on cancer genetics. It aims at studying how genes can go wrong in
cancers, how we can identify those genes, and from there, understand their
function. And, ultimately, obviously,
the goal is, once one understands those, one could then interfere in terms of
diagnostics, therapeutics, prognosis, so that one can understand cancer one at
Linda Austin: There’s another program, I
understand, at Hollings that looks at investigational therapeutics. What, exactly, does that consist of?
Yusuf Hannun: The first program on
genetics is directed by Dr. Dennis Watson.
The program on experimental therapeutics is directed by Dr. Cantu, who
is also Chairman of the Department of Pharmacology. The goal of that program is to bring
investigators and researches at the Hollings Cancer Center, at MUSC in general,
and tackle the issues of how does one develop effective therapeutics to
individual cancers? Cancer is really a
collection of many, many different cancers.
By understanding each of these cancers and what’s wrong with them,
investigators can go and come up with good candidates for targets, what we call
targets, for treatment. These are genes
or proteins that the investigators consider to be reasonable targets to develop
therapy against them. You can think of
each of the cancers and ask, what is the Achilles’ heel there? What, then, can be a direct therapeutic to
target that? And the investigators at
the Hollings Cancer Center
have become quite successful in taking several of these targets and advancing
them to the next step.
Linda Austin: In what types of cancer
are they active now?
Yusuf Hannun: Again, perhaps one could
think of them in two categories. There
are targets that tend to be very specific to a specific cancer. On the other hand, there are targets that
seem to play more common roles in multiple cancers, not necessarily all
cancers, but several cancers.
Linda Austin: What are some of the other
areas of research that we have going on at Hollings?
Yusuf Hannun: The two remaining basic
science programs are Cancer Immunology and Lipid Signaling. Cancer Immunology is directed by Dr. Mike Nishimura from the Department of Surgery. And, again, there, the main focus is to
understand mechanisms of cancer immunity.
People need to realize that there’s an interaction, a dynamic
interaction, between the cancer and the rest of the human body. It’s a kind of a host/cancer
interaction. And that interaction is
mostly immunologic in nature. The cancer
cells may have abnormal molecules, antigens, that the body thinks are foreign
so it tries to get rid of them, but then the cancer may develop and evolve
mechanisms to escape those immune functions.
And that’s why cancers tend to persist, whereas, for example, many
bacterial infections or viral infections, once the body deals with the initial
assault, the body develops very effective immune therapy, whereas in cancer,
that fails because of this more difficult dynamic between cancer and body.
Dr. Linda Austin: Now, the
fourth area of research is actually headed up by your wife, Lina Obeid. Can you give us a brief overview?
Dr. Yusuf Hannun:
Sure. This program of lipid
signaling in cancer builds on a rather unique group of scientists at MUSC that
are leaders in what’s called lipid biology and lipid signaling. People may be familiar with lipids as these
molecules that give you calories, fat molecules, but lipids are very important
in the structure of cell function and in the biologic responses of cells, and a
whole class of lipids function as regulatory molecules. And these molecules, we are learning, get
misregulated in cancer, and this program is trying to understand this
regulation of lipids in cancer and turn it around against the cancer cells so
that one could get effective therapeutics.
And this program actually does now get into what we call translational
science, meaning, developing ways to develop therapeutics, to acquire
therapeutics based on this research.
Dr. Linda Austin: Very
exciting. Dr. Hannun, thank you so much
for talking with us today.
Dr. Yusuf Hannun: Thank
If you have any questions about the services
or programs offered at the Medical University of South
Carolina or if you would like to schedule an
appointment with one of our physicians, please call MUSC Health Connection: (843) 792-1414.