April 15, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 14

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    [janis burkhardt] by matthew gilson
    Janis Burkhardt, Assistant Professor in Pathology, is researching lymphocytes.

    Burkhardt receives NIH grant

    By Sharon Parmet
    Medical Center Public Affairs

    Janis Burkhardt, Assistant Professor in Pathology, has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health for $278,600 to study the interaction of lymphocytes and cancer cells.

    Previous research has shown that when a lymphocyte, one of the body’s traveling immune cells, comes into contact with a cancer cell, it fires tiny toxin granules at the cancer cell, killing it. The question Burkhardt is addressing is how the lymphocyte directs its aim.

    Burkhardt discovered that the granules travel through cytoplasm on what scientists call the cytoskeleton––a meshwork of filamentous protein molecules, known as microtubules, that give the cell its shape. The lymphocyte shoots the granules at the cancer cell, using the microtubules as a gun barrel. The lymphocyte directs its fire at the cancer cell by rearranging its microtubules to point in the right direction.

    Burkhardt’s research is relevant to cancer treatment because some patients are treated with chemotherapy regimens that affect microtubules, prohibiting the lymphocytes from performing their jobs.

    Other patients are undergoing new therapies in which their lymphocytes are harvested, grown in the lab to increase lymphocyte numbers artificially and then reimplanted into their bodies. A few of these patients are also undergoing chemotherapy that disrupts the action of the lymphocytes, so using both therapies at the same time is not optimal.

    “Understanding how the lymphocytes work and how certain chemotherapy agents interact with them is important in knowing how to design more intelligent therapies,” said Burkhardt.