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Dr. Judith Ochrietor, University of North Florida – Cancer Fighting Protein

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Judith Ochrietor of the University of North Florida explains how a dangerous protein can also be dangerous for cancer. 

Judith Ochrietor is an associate professor of biology at the University of North Florida where she uses her studies of cell adhesion and metabolism in the neural retina to train undergraduate and Masters of Science students. She earned a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Ohio State University and later studied the development of the mammalian neural retina as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Florida.

About Dr. Ochrietor

Dr. Judith Ochrietor – Cancer Fighting Protein

As a biochemist, I am curious about the relationship between cell surface proteins and cellular metabolism in the neural retina of the eye.  In the retina, rods and cones receive small organic molecules from supportive Müller glial cells to fuel the production of cellular energy required for vision.  The importance of the transfer of those small molecules is best demonstrated through studies of the Basigin-null strain of mice.  These animals were generated using genetic technologies that prevent them from expressing Basigin proteins and have been determined to be blind from the time of eye opening.

Basigin, a cell adhesion molecule, associates with a specialized transporter protein that moves small molecules across the cell membrane.  In the absence of Basigin expression, the transporter is also absent from the cell surface and molecules cannot be transferred to the rods and cones.  As a result, the rods and cones never fully function and the animals are blind. 

In contrast, development of cancer involves overexpression of Basigin and its associated transporter protein.  In that situation, too many small organic molecules are transferred into the developing cancer cells, a great deal of cellular energy is produced, and the cancer cells grow at a remarkable rate.  In the near future, my laboratory hopes to study a cancer that is specific to the eye, known as retinoblastoma.  Specifically, we would like to determine the contribution of Basigin and its associated transporter protein to disease progression.  

Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.

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