biologist wins award for frog research
A UVic researcher who hopes to help find a cure for
cancer by studying frogs is the winner of the Society of Environmental
Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) / American Chemistry Council Early
Career Award in Applied Ecology.
The $100,000 US award encourages professionals at the
start of their careers to research topics related to ecosystem dynamics,
environmental exposure, or ecological risk assessment and management.
Dr. Caren Helbing (biochemistry and microbiology) assesses
how chemicals disrupt normal cell activity in response to hormones
in frogs, illuminating how environmental agents could contribute
to diseases such as cancer.
Shes studying how thyroid hormones influence
cell activity. Thyroid hormones are very important for human
health, especially in babies where theyre required for proper
brain development, Helbing explains. Frogs are very
sensitive to thyroid hormones. As a matter of fact, theyre
essential for the metamorphosis of a tadpole into a frog. They cause
the tail to destroy itself and for the legs to grow. Therefore,
frogs can act as indicators for disruption of thyroid hormone action.
By comparing the growth conditions with death
conditions we can learn how a cell processes a hormonal signal to
result in growth or death. Using this knowledge, we may be able
to convince a cancer cell, through our manipulations, to actually
kill itself selectively.
Helbing was presented with the award in mid-November
at SETACs annual meeting in Utah. She already holds a Natural
Sciences and Engineering Research Council faculty research award
and an NSERC strategic grant for the development of her frog microarraya
technology that provides a snapshot of gene activity
before and after chemical exposure. This technology has the potential
to aid in screening chemicals for detrimental effects.
Photo: Helbing and frog tadpoles. (Maria Lironi