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Yang Li, Ph.D., and team secure NIH grant for skin cancer research

Li collaborates with OHIO biochemists to study how zinc effects skin cell damage

Sept. 26, 2008

By Colleen Kiphart

Associate Professor of Biomedical Sciences Yang Li, Ph.D., is collaborating with Ohio University biochemists to delve deeper into the relationship between ultraviolet (UV) radiation and skin cancer. Their research recently received a five-year, $1.25 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), marking the fourth NIH-supported research project involving OU-COM faculty so far this calendar year.

While it is widely known that UV rays break down skin cells and can cause cancerous mutations, the team, lead by Shiyong Wu, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry, is trying to learn more. Skin cells incur damage and die on a regular basis, but health issues arise when they do not recover properly. The researchers are searching for a link between zinc and nitric oxide in the cell death and repair process.

“When we shed UV light on skin cells and other types of cells, there were increases in cellular zinc that matched up with cell injury or death,” Li said. “These are completely in line with other studies in my lab, (the results of which show) that zinc overload causes cell injury and plays a role in the regulation of apoptosis (normal cell death).”  

Through his research, Li has established himself as an expert on the effects of zinc on the body. Most recently he investigated the possible correlation between zinc and strokes. His study, published last year, questioned the dominant theory that high levels of calcium lead to brain cell injury in ischemic strokes, and pointed the finger instead to an overload of zinc. 

Roughly one million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, making it one of the most common cancers in America. Despite being one of the most treatable cancers, 11,200 people die from skin cancer annually, according to 2008 American Cancer Society statistics.

Li and Wu will work with Tadeusz Malinski, Ph.D., Marvin & Ann Dilley White Distinguished Professor of biochemistry, who developed the nanosensor technology they will use to spot nitric oxide.  

“The Office of Research and Grants is greatly encouraged to see the increase in federal grants obtained by HCOM faculty,” said Chris Knisely, M.A., executive director of the Office of Research and Grants. “Funding from NIH and NSF provides the resources to help us meet the college goal of focusing our research and the University goal of expanding our prominence in research.” 


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