Imagine a future in which oncologists—using gene analysis—prescribe new chemotherapeutic agents to arrest or even eliminate malignant tumors in their patients.

Cancer researcher Nancy Magnuson is working to transform that dream into reality. The Herbert Eastlick Distinguished Professor of Molecular Biosciences, Dr. Magnuson is focusing her research on a gene that helps cells survive but also causes cancer.

The gene, pim 1, and its product protein, Pim-1, a known promoter of cancer cell growth, are the focus of her research. Because the protein promotes cell survival, Dr. Magnuson believes that ability may also be the key to Pim-1’s role in promoting the production of cancerous cells. Solving that puzzle could lead to the development of chemotherapeutic agents that will selectively eliminate cancer cells.

Featuring: Nancy Magnuson, Ph.D.

Dr. Magnuson earned a bachelor’s degree from UCLA and a doctorate in immunology from Washington State University. She serves on the board of directors of the Spokane chapter of the American Cancer Society, the advisory board of the WSU Cancer Prevention and Research Center, the review panel for grant awards for prostate and breast cancer research from the U.S. Army, and the review panel for grant awards for the National Cancer Institute in Washington, D.C.

The long-range objective of the research being pursued in Nancy Magnuson’s laboratory is to understand the parameters that regulate the immune response which when uncontrolled can lead to immune disorders including cancer and autoimmune disease.

Central to the regulation of the immune response is a group of transiently induced genes which includes lymphokines and growth factors (oncogenes). Of particular interest to Dr. Magnuson and her research team is the transiently induced, lymphoid-restricted proto-oncogene called pim -1. The pim -1 gene codes for a cytoplasmic serine/threonine kinase, and it is thought that its normal role is participation in one of the many signal transduction pathways involved in lymphocyte activation/differentiation and also, under certain conditions, in apoptosis. When the pim-1 gene is overexpressed in combination with C- myc , however, leukemia results.

The major goal of the ongoing research is to understand the function of the Pim-1 kinase. In addition, Dr. Magnuson and her colleagues are interested in elucidating the molecular mechanisms controlling the highly regulated expression of the pim -1 gene, since this information is of importance for understanding, and eventually manipulating, the mammalian immune system.