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

Richard LeBaron

Richard LeBaron

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(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.

Events
Feb. 13, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

29th annual Asian Festival - Year of the Monkey

The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures invites Texas and Texans to the Asian Festival. What began as a traditional family reunion for the Chinese New Year has expanded to include other Asian communities and participants, showcasing their unique culture and traditions.
The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures

Feb. 13, 1 p.m.

2016 Interdisciplinary Studies Colloquium

Join the UTSA Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching in celebrating interdisciplinary inquiry at the 2016  Interdisciplinary Studies Colloquium.  The colloquium will include a panel of faculty and recent doctoral graduate and a showcase of the best IDS undergraduate inquiry projects of the year 2015. The event is free and open to the public.
Business Building (BB 2.06.04), UTSA Main Campus

Feb. 16, 8:30 - 11:30 a.m.

S.T.E.M. Career Fair

Are you looking for career opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math? Come to the SPRING 2015 STEM Career Fair. Recruiters from across the STEM fields will be present with full-time, part-time and/or internship opportunities. Professional dress is required. Bring plenty of resumes! Download the UTSA Career Fair Plus App on iOS and Android.
Convocation Center, Main Campus

Feb. 16, 1:30 - 4:30 p.m.

Spring 2016 All Majors Career & Internship Fair

Come to the Spring 2016 All Majors and Internship Career Fair. Recruiters from across all industries will be present with full-time or internship opportunities. Professional Dress is Required. Bring plenty of resumes! Download the UTSA Career Fair Plus App on iOS and Android.
Convocation Center, Main Campus

Feb. 17, 5:30 p.m.

CACP Speaker Series continues with Cesar Pelli

The UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning (CACP) welcomes renowned architect Cesar Pelli as part of the CACP’s 2015-16 Speaker Series. Pelli is founder and Senior Principal of the New Haven, Conn. firm Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. In his talk, “Becoming an Architect,” Pelli will present and discuss projects that were critical steps in his career.
Buena Vista Theater (BV 1.326), Downtown Campus

Feb. 23, 5:30 p.m.

African-American Social Welfare Pioneers Responding to Community Needs

The UTSA College of Public Policy presents the Dean's Distinguished Lecture Series featuring Dr. Iris Carlton-LaNey, Professor of the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Dr. Iris Carlton LaNey will speak to the UTSA community about the role and impact of African-Americans in the social work profession.
Buena Vista Theater (BV 1.326), Downtown Campus

Feb. 23, 5:30 p.m.

African-American Social Welfare Pioneers Responding to Community Needs

The UTSA College of Public Policy presents the Dean's Distinguished Lecture Series featuring Dr. Iris Carlton-LaNey, Professor of the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Dr. Carlton-LaNey will speak to the UTSA community about the role and impact of African-Americans in the social work profession.
Buena Vista Theater (BV 1.326), Downtown Campus

Feb. 23, 7 p.m.

Presentation and Book Signing with Luis Carlos Montalvan

Please join us for a presentation and book signing by Luis Carlos Montalván (Fmr. Capt., USA), author of the New York Times Bestseller Until Tuesday and the international award-winning childrens book Tuesday Tucks Me In. His books will be available for purchase at the UTSA Bookstore. This event is free and open to the public.
Southwest Room (DB 1.124), Downtown Campus

Feb. 25, 6 p.m.

12th Annual Black Heritage Gala

The 12th Annual Black Heritage Gala is a formal event which includes a student performance, keynote remarks by Michael Brown, an award presentation, dinner and dancing. Tickets are $10 for UTSA students and $15 for all other guests. Tickets are on sale now at Roadrunner Express. Contact (210) 458-4770 for more information.
H-E-B University Center Ballroom, Main Campus

Feb. 27, 9 a.m.

Cultural Contrasts in Latin America

The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures will host a free workshop focusing on teaching Latin American culture and geography for students seeking their teacher certification. The workshop includes free resources for teaching Latin American subject matter as well as presentations on language, identity, music, geography, and political and developmental history, and a special educators’ tour of the museum’s Los Tejanos exhibit. Free with registration.
The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC 3.01.02)


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