VAI doctor earns cancer research grant

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Dr. Scott Rothbart. Courtesy Van Andel Institute

A Van Andel Institute epigenetics expert was awarded a research scholar’s grant for his studies into a promising class of anti-cancer medications.

The American Cancer Society granted $792,000 to back Dr. Scott Rothbart’s into potent anti-cancer drugs called EZH2 inhibitors.

The enzyme, EZH2, has long been of interest to cancer researchers because of the way it interacts with proteins that support DNA. EZH2 contributes to cell growth regulation, as it can turn genes that control the process “on” or “off.”  If EZH2 dysregulation occurs and causes cell proliferation, it can lead to cancer development. The enzyme also helps tumors to evade destruction by the immune system.

“EZH2 has immense potential to move the needle toward more targeted cancer treatments,” Rothbart said. “We hope to contribute to this important work by defining the spectrum of molecules with which EZH2 interacts to help guide development of more precise therapeutic strategies. I am honored and humbled to receive this award from the American Cancer Society and look forward to uncovering new insights that may help improve treatment for people with cancer.”

In 2018, Rothbart and his collaborators discovered EZH2 interacts with many more proteins than initially thought by developing a new method of studying the family of enzymes to which the EZH2 belongs. Interactions between molecules such as EZH2 and proteins are a major target for therapeutic development, as proteins are responsible for carrying out all biological processes, playing a central role in all aspects of health and disease.

“We are proud to fund the innovative research by Dr. Scott Rothbart at Van Andel Institute, made possible by dedicated American Cancer Society supporters,” said Dr. Kathy Goss, vice president of regional cancer control at the American Cancer Society. “By investing in the research community’s brightest minds and best ideas, we continue to improve the lives of cancer patients and their families and, ultimately, move closer to a world without cancer.”

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