Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.
By: Savanna Wood
Researchers in the department of applied physiology and kinesiology at the University of Florida are currently studying rats to discover how muscle decrease, a symptom of prostate cancer, can be reduced or avoided.
Because one in six men are diagnosed with prostate cancer throughout their lifetime, Peter Adhihetty, who holds a doctorate in biology, and his partners are tirelessly working to understand how a patient’s mitochondria is related to muscle mass and function decrease caused by prostate cancer.
Linda Nguyen, a fourth-year Ph.D. student at the University of Florida who works with Adhihetty, said mitochondria, or the “powerhouse of the south,” are important because they produce an energy-rich substance, adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. ATP is a source of energy used in physiological reactions such as cell division, and is otherwise known as the currency of metabolism.
Understanding how these energy-rich organelles, or subunits of these cells, affect the organs and tissues will help researchers discover ways to minimize the impact that prostate cancer has on muscles. Nguyen said she hopes this will eventually lead to natural treatment options, minimizing the need for drugs.
To analyze the muscle complications that result from the tumors, Adhihetty and his assistants culture and grow cancer cells and inject them directly into a rat’s prostate, Nguyen said.
To do this, the researchers divide the rats into two groups: mice with tumors and mice without tumors. Those rats are then sub-divided into an active group and a sedentary group.
Because this research project is done through the exercise physiology department, dividing the rats into groups based on levels of exercise helps to study how/if exercise directly effects cancer, Nguyen said.
After the cancer is fully developed inside the rat, the active groups of rats are ready to attend research boot camp. The rats train for an hour a day, five days a week, for seven weeks. Nguyen said the rodents are placed on treadmills to ensure they are equally exercised.
“After seven weeks, the animals are euthanized and the tissues are harvested,” Nguyen said.
To aid in the process of tissue harvesting, Dr. Adhihetty offers volunteer positions to some of his students. Courtney Criswell, applied physiology and kinesiology major, is responsible for pulverizing the tissues that are broken up into difference muscle groups.
The organs and tissues are dissected from the rats, put into tubes and frozen with liquid nitrogen.
“My job is to take those tissues and to pulverize them and put them into a powder, while keeping them cold at the same time,” Criswell said.
Alaa Elannoan, a student of Dr. Adhihetty, started his volunteering just like Criswell did. He is now onto the step after the pulverizing of the tissue: western blotting.
“This is one of the many experiments that we do with proteins and tissues to analyze them,” said Elannoan. “This two-to-three day process extracts proteins from the pulverized tissue and turns it into a liquid.”
Nguyen said that after the tissues are harvested and liquefied, they are analyzed to further understand the affect that mitochondria have on muscle function in a prostate cancer patient.
A main limitation of this study is that the tumor does not always form in the rat. Nguyen said it is important to remember that these obstacles are not uncommon when it comes to forcing cancer into action. The cancer cell injection has to be completely accurate in order to achieve results.
Adhietty and his colleagues are continuing to collaborate with other researchers in the department to get a better idea of prostate cancer as a disease.
“We like to further the understanding of how cancer affects skeletal muscles on the mitochondria and how exercise can lower the deficit. We then can pass our results on and let them be used for clinical research,” Nguyen said.