In spring 2007, Dr. Raymond Konger was awarded a grant from the Prevent Cancer Foundation to support his research on skin cancer. Now an Associate Professor of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine and Dermatology at Indiana University, Dr. Konger continues his research, stating, “My focus on cancer prevention is based on the idea that the best way to treat a cancer is to prevent it from occurring in the first place.”
Tell us about your research examining the blockade of peroxisome proliferator activated receptor gamma (PPARg), a cellular protein that is important in regulating gene expression, as a strategy for cancer chemoprevention.
I became interested in PPARg approximately 5-6 years ago when we discovered the ultraviolet rays in sunlight triggered the conversion of normal cellular lipids into “oxidized” lipids that activated PPARg. It is known that repeated exposure to ultraviolet rays in sunlight account for more than 90% of skin cancers. I reasoned that if ultraviolet rays could activate PPARg, then PPARg may play an important role in sun-induced skin cancer formation. As it turns out, our early data would appear to support this conclusion. In our most recent studies, our preliminary data shows that mice treated with a chemical carcinogen develop far less tumors when they are co-treated with a drug which activates PPARg. Our current focus is on understanding how this happens and whether these PPARg activating drugs prevent skin cancer in people.
How has receiving a Prevent Cancer Foundation grant impacted your research?
The vast majority of university-based medical research is supported by the government through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). When I entered into my research career in 2002, the NIH was undergoing a major reduction in funding due to the recession of 2001 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. For beginning investigators like me, it was extremely difficult to obtain the funding necessary to get a research project off the ground. The Foundation provided me with the funding I needed to generate enough data to compete with established investigators. Since receiving the Foundation grant, I have gone on to obtain three different NIH grants that have allowed my research to progress nicely.
Why is it important to fund research in the field of cancer prevention and early detection?
Prevention strategies either prevent a tumor from occurring, or if they do occur, they decrease the aggressiveness of the tumor and improve treatment response rates. Similarly, early detection strategies help to detect the tumors before they have spread, thus making it much easier to effectively cure the patient.
The easiest step to prevent skin cancer is to simply limit exposure to the harmful rays of sunlight (e.g. use of UVA/UVB sun block). In the near future, we hope that our studies will provide an effective preventive treatment for those at high future risk for skin cancer, such as those with extensive sun damage to the skin, the presence of premalignant lesions, or those who have already had skin cancer.
For more information about how you can prevent skin cancer, visit preventcancer.org.