(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.
This panel presentation will look at the history of the YWCA and the impact the organization has had on women in the San Antonio community.
McKinney Humanities Building (MH 2.02.10), Main Campus
The Demography Lecture Series continues with Dr. Barbara Bird of American University. Her topic focuses on Insights Into a Hard to Find Population: Latino Entrepreneurs in Metro Washington, D.C. Event is free and open to the public. Parking is available in the pay stall spaces of the Monterrey surface lot.
Monterrey Building (MNT 3.240), Downtown Campus
This video tells the story of four Latina lesbians who fought for exoneration after being wrongfully convicted of sexually assaulting two girls during the Satanic Panic witch-hunt era of the 1980s and 1990s.
H-E-B University Center, Bexar Room (HUC 1.102), Main Campus
Tejana/Indígena author Ire'ne Lara Ailva will read from her latest work and discuss her approach to reimagining Tejan@ myths.
Main Building (MB 2.404), Main Campus
Muralist Crystal Arias will discuss her current mural "Cultivate the Past to Prestige" at La India Herbs and themes she utilizes in her other works.
McKinney Humanities Building (MH 3.02.26), Main Campus
The UTSA Department of Modern Languages and Literatures is a co-sponsor of the CARTA 19th Annual Conference. The group meets annually to exchange educational programs, ideas, and techniques and to network with other teachers of Russian. Registration required.
DoubleTree by Hilton, Downtown San Antonio
Into the Woods is a musically sophisticated show with a leaning towards dark comedy. Dr. William McCrary directs. $15 tickets $10 students military seniors 55+ with IDs $8 groups of ten or more in any price level. There will be a second show Sunday, April 2 at 3 p.m.
Arts Building, Recital Hall (ARTS 2.03.02), Main Campus
UTSA faculty, staff and students are members of the Helotes Area Community Band and are proud to present a special Tapestry of Concert Band Classics. The event is free and open to the community.
John Marshall High School Auditorium, 8000 Lobo Lane, San Antonio
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