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Pursuit of Discovery featuring Dr. Isabelle Lemasson

Pursuit of Discovery
 
 
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Podcast Transcript



Introduction (Dr. Peden Talking)



Welcome to Pursuit of Discovery, East Carolina University’s podcast about innovative research happening right here on campus. I’m Dr. James G Peden, associate dean for admissions at the Brody School of Medicine. Join us today as we explore research in the Division of Health Sciences, where doctors, researchers, and scientists are making an impact on a global level.

The human T-cell leukemia virus type 1, a retrovirus that causes adult T-cell leukemia, is an untreatable and often fatal disease. This virus, called HTLV-1, is unusual. After entering the body, it lies largely dormant for as many as 40 years before causing the leukemia.



Dr. Isabelle Lemasson, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the Brody School of Medicine, has been researching HTLV-1. Her research specifically looks at the role of a protein called HBZ and how it is involved in regulating viral and cellular transcription.



Dr. Lemasson talking



My name is Isabelle Lemasson, and I am an assistant professor at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. I work on a retrovirus, which is a virus that is similar to HIV, but it gives a disease that is completely different. It can give what is called adult T-cell leukemia. This virus is called HTLV-1, and it will affect cells in the body of a person. It transforms a certain kind of cells to cause leukemia. The virus affects cells that are important for the human system. So, if you transform the cell, it’s not good for the body. When you get this disease, you die in six months or a year. It’s pretty bad, but it’s also very rare. The percentage of people who end up getting the disease is 5 percent.



Dr. Peden talking



Through her research, Lemasson is striving to learn how HTLV-1 can remain in healthy individuals for decades then trigger cells to become cancerous.



Dr. Lemasson talking



We try to understand how cancer progresses, so it’s a good model for having knowledge about how a cell can be transformed and how you can obtain a cancer. So, we hope that what we learn from HTVL-1 we can also use it to learn about other kinds of cancer. Cancer follows the same principles. You have a deregulation of similar genes. The genes in the cell are abnormally expressed. The information from all of these studies can be brought together to have a better knowledge of cancer development.


Dr. Peden talking



Lemasson’s research specifically looks at the role of a protein called HBZ and how it is involved in regulating viral and cellular transcription. Lemasson and her husband Dr. Nick Polakowski think that HBZ plays a role in keeping the virus from replicating too quickly and drawing an attack from the immune system.



Dr. Lemasson talking



We really think that this viral protein that we got the grant on is really involved in the different types of cancer. So, we hope that if we could stop the expression of this protein, we could avoid the development of cancer. So far we don’t really have a good idea of how we could do that so that’s why we try to do some research on it.


The grant was from the NIH, National Institutes of Health, and it’s a grant for five years. To get it, it’s really complicated. You do preliminary data, and you write a grant, and send the grant to be reviewed by your peers. You get feedback, and if it’s good, you get it, and if it’s not good, then you have to resend it. We did that three times, and the third time was a charm. That was difficult—to be honest with you. You have to take into account the critiques that you get and try to incorporate them and write a better grant.



Dr. Peden talking



Lemasson hopes that the research in her lab will not only help scientists better understand HTLV-1, but other forms of cancer, as well.



Dr. Lemasson talking



We are trying to find the viral protein that might have a role in the transformation of the cells. We are trying to look at which genes are regulated by the protein and maybe we can build on that.

This has been a production of East Carolina University.