Thursday, July 30, 2015

Research in lab of UTSA's Richard LeBaron may help cure bone cancer and diabetes

Richard LeBaron

Richard LeBaron

Share this Story

(Nov. 13, 2009)--Over the last 15 years, more than 70 UTSA students of varying levels have matriculated through the laboratory of biology professor Richard LeBaron, who studies the extracellular matrix of proteins found outside of cells. And, for the last 10 years, most of those students have become intimately familiar with a protein called BIG-H3, that theoretically may be useful in killing bone cancer cells.

BIG-H3, known formally as "transforming growth factor beta-induced protein," is found in many organs in the body. An extracellular protein, it is found outside the body's cells. In its natural state, BIG-H3 acts as an adhesive or a pathway to help cells travel to places where they are needed throughout the body.

However, research conducted in the 1990s suggested that BIG-H3 might be involved in other physiological actions in addition to helping cells move. It was hypothesized that BIG-H3 plays a role in triggering apoptosis, the body's process for destroying unwanted cells.

An expert in extracellular molecules, LeBaron was curious about the research. In the late 1990s, he began asking questions. Does BIG-H3 start apoptosis, or is it merely present during the process? Do BIG-H3 concentrations change during apoptosis and, if so, how? Which parts of the BIG-H3 protein are activated during apoptosis? That curiosity has driven LeBaron's laboratory for the last decade, and his team's deliberations have brought significant observations to light.

"Over the years, we have studied BIG-H3 very intently, and our research indicates that high levels of BIG-H3 trigger excess apoptosis, a natural cell death program," LeBaron said. "We also know that one of BIG-H3's ends, called the C-terminus, must be in a fragmented state for the cell death cycle to occur. We've even been able to go so far as to pinpoint that the fragmentation occurs in the last 69 amino acid stretch on BIG-H3's C-terminus, and within that stretch find the signal that promotes death in some types of cancer cells."

The LeBaron laboratory's research on BIG-H3 has been featured in scientific publications and at international scientific meetings over the years. Most recently in a Matrix Biology article, LeBaron presents research indicating that his team can induce BIG-H3 to kill bone cancer cells by raising the BIG-H3 concentration in the laboratory and forcing the BIG-H3 C-terminus to become fragmented.

"Because BIGH3 is found in many human tissues, we did not know what path our research would ultimately take, so we simply expect that the results or our experiments will guide us," said LeBaron.

LeBaron's recent work shows that BIG-H3 may be involved in other human diseases including health complications that arise from hyperglycemia. Collaborating with other UTSA and Univeristy of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio investigators, his preliminary studies suggest that BIGH3 might be a significant clinical target. The LeBaron lab research offers hope to individuals suffering from cancer and diabetes.

"We have already been able to trick BIG-H3 into killing bone cancer cells in the laboratory by increasing BIG-H3's concentrations in vitro," said LeBaron. "If we can raise the concentrations of BIG-H3 in the body of a bone cancer patient like we can in the laboratory, we should be able to manipulate the body into killing its cancer cells."

BIG-H3 is not the only protein LeBaron studies. His laboratory studies a protein named lubricin that is found outside cells and lubricates joints.

"We have shown that lubricin is found in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), the jaw joint that many people associate with lockjaw," said LeBaron.

More women than men have reported degenerative TMJ that is very painful and often causes restricted jaw movement. LeBaron's research shows that the lubricin gene might be regulated by estrogen. Moreover, his laboratory has evidence that estrogen causes the lubricin protein to stop lubricating.

"If we can prove this is the case, then it will open a number of new avenues by which TMJ degeneration can be treated, if not cured," LeBaron said. "The better we understand what they do in humans and how they work, the greater are our chances of helping treat and cure diseases. We are very excited about our work and where it is taking us."

An associate professor of cellular and molecular biology, LeBaron has served at UTSA for 15 years. He is a faculty member in the Department of Biology in the UTSA College of Sciences and the San Antonio Institute for Cellular and Molecular Primatology at UTSA. He has received continuous research support through National Institutes of Health MBRS/SCORE grants, private foundations and UTSA faculty research awards.

Did You Know?

UTSA researcher is a star behind the cloud

A revolution in cloud computing is underway, and Ravi Sandhu believes it will be much bigger than the PC and Internet revolutions that have already changed the way we live. Sandhu, director of the UTSA Institute for Cyber Security, says UTSA is taking a leadership role in tackling three fundamental cloud technology problems: how to build and operate the cloud, how to use it profitably for diverse applications and how to keep it secure.

Sandhu, the Lutcher Brown Distinguished Chair in Cyber Security in the College of Sciences, and Ram Krishnan, assistant professor of electrical engineering in the UTSA College of Engineering, are funded by a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to improve cloud security.

Did you know? Sandhu, a world-renowned cybersecurity expert, holds 30 patents, has authored more than 250 papers and been cited more than 30,000 times.

Read More »
July 30, 5 - 7 p.m.

Networking and happy hour with AIA San Antonio's Women in Architecture

Join AIA San Antonio’s Women in Architecture group for their networking and happy hour event, where all design professionals are welcome.
Liberty Bar, 1111 S. Alamo St.

Aug. 1, 9 p.m.

"Inside Peace" documentary screening

This documentary, presented by the San Antonio Film Festival, documents the experience of re-entry after incarceration. The film features Michael Gilbert, associate professor in the department of criminal justice and director of the Office of Community and Restorative Justice program at UTSA.
Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, 100 Auditorium Circle

Aug. 4, 6 - 8 p.m.

Free Teacher Tuesday: Los Tejanos Workshop

Discover resources and strategies for teaching Tejano history and culture and get a special educator's tour of the new long-term exhibit, Los Tejanos.
Institute of Texan Cultures, 801 E. César E. Chávez Blvd.

Aug. 9, 12 - 5 p.m.

Vaquerocation 2015

This cowboy-themed programming, offered in conjunction with Our Kids Magazine's Kidcation Week, gives families the opportunity to visit with cowboy docents, enjoy readings and visit activity tables.
Institute of Texan Cultures, 801 E. Cesar E. Chavez Blvd.

Aug. 22, 6 p.m.

UTSA Alumni Gala

The UTSA Alumni Association hosts this annual gala honoring the Alumna of the Year, Alumnus of the Year and the Alumnus of the Year Lifetime Achievement award winners.
Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa, 9800 Hyatt Resort Dr.

Other Calendars
» UTSA Events | » Academic | » Institute of Texan Cultures

Submit an Event

Meet a Roadrunner

Julian Acosta '12 is a musician with business cred

After graduation, Queretaro native founded a music label recognized by SXSW

UTSA's Mission

The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.

UTSA's Vision

To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.

UTSA's Core Values

We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.

Connect with UTSA News


Related Links

Back to Top