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Sue Bush
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Extraordinary As The Stars: Cancer Research Shows Promise

By Jen Thomas
12:00AM / Saturday, March 10, 2007

Cancer researcher and Indiana University Professor Linda Malkas
North Adams- Leading cancer researcher Linda H. Malkas revealed some of her newest and as of yet unpublished conclusions when she spoke at the Region I Massachusetts Science Fair.

Hosted at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts Friday, the fair brought in student scientists from Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden counties to showcase their projects. Malkas capped off the day with a speech titled “We Can Land a Man on the Moon; Why Can’t We Cure Cancer?”

“It should be titled ‘How a Path in Science Can Lead to an Extraordinary Life,’” said Barbara Malkas, local math and science teacher and Linda’s sister, in her introduction.

Linda Malkas, a professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine and Vera Bradley chair in oncology, began by explaining her motivation to become a scientist. After originally striving to be an astronaut, Malkas turned to cancer research after the loss of her father to the disease in 1984. It was then she learned the value of the single human cell.

“We are as extraordinary as the stars,” she said, explaining that a single person’s DNA, if unwound, could reach farther than the sun. Her research concentrates primarily on isolating biomarkers – indicators that correlate to certain diseases – that would eventually aid in the early detection of cancer.

“Researchers predict that 95 percent of cancers can be prevented if we just find it sooner,” Malkas said. “Early detection is a critical key.”

The tumor markers Malkas identified have the potential to be used to revolutionize the treatment of cancer. Blood tests to locate these genetic markers could be administered at routine doctor’s visits, while also monitoring the effectiveness of treatment. Her research could be used to develop medication that targets only cancerous cells, rather than normal cells, which causes a host of devastating side effects for suffering patients.

Malthas’ crowning achievement is discovering the human cell DNA synthesome, a molecular DNA replication “machine.” After years of using a model of the synthesome in her presentations, she showed unreleased photographs of the synthesome in action.

“The function of a synthesome is different in cancer cells,” she explained. During seven years of individual research, Malkas and her team were able to deduce that the protein PCNA appeared in an altered form in cancer cells, but not in normal ones. This led to the creation of an antibody that became a “true detector for cancer.”

Malkas said that she believes this antibody can be used to differentiate between benign and malignant tumors better than the current practice of determining – through human observation. As the testing of these antibodies moves into clinical trials, Malkas hopes that her research will finally make a difference.

“It took so long to make the antibody, and after seven years of hard work, I couldn’t have gotten any more excited in a million years,” she said after the presentation.

“In your time, cancer isn’t going to be frightening anymore,” she said. “If that doesn’t excite you, I don’t know what will.”

Jen Thomas is a senior student at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and an iberkshires.com correspondent.
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