Mary Ann McLane
What are your general research interests?
I am interested in how small molecular weight, naturally occurring proteins can function as anti-cancer molecules. A viper venom disintegrin protein, eristostatin, from Erisotocophis macmahoni, can inhibit melanoma cell activity in a mouse model of metastasis. There are many other naturally occurring molecules like this which seem to have inhibitory activity against cancer, and the biggest challenge is finding out what part of the whole molecule is most critical in giving the protein its ability and in discovering the mechanism used by the protein to make it be inhibitory.
What are your current projects and how are they funded?
I have just completed a three-year INBRE grant from NIH in which one graduate student and five undergraduates (from both medical technology and biological sciences) studied cell surface receptors on six types of melanoma cells, binding of eristostatin to those cells, interactions of melanoma cells and natural killer cells in the presence of eristostatin, and intracellular signaling events occurring within the melanoma cells in the presence of the disintegrin.
Who are your collaborators on these projects?
We extensively use confocal microscopy and atomic force microscopy with the resources at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, with Drs. Kirk Czymmek and Elizabeth Adams as collaborators. Disintegrin collaborators include Dr. M. Kini from Singapore and Dr. F. Markland from the University of Southern California.
What are the likely “next steps” in your work?
We have submitted two R21 grants this February, with the first proposing in vivo studies using mice who vary in their possession of Natural Killer cells, to establish the involvement of innate immunity in eristostatin’s inhibition of melanoma cell activity in a living organism. With the second grant, which is in collaboration with Dr. Deni Galileo from the UD Department of Biological Sciences, we will study the use of venom disintegrins in inhibiting melanoma, glioma and breast cancer cell activity in a chick embryo model.
How would you describe your work’s importance to an interested lay audience?
Once a cancerous tumor goes from being localized to being metastatic, it is much more difficult to treat or remove. These small molecular weight proteins can inhibit malignant melanoma cell activity both in a test tube and in a living animal model. Once we discover how it is able to do that, there is a greater possibility of taking the active part of the protein, creating a synthetic version of it which will not cause an immune response, and testing it as a treatment to prevent metastasis.
photo courtesy of the News Journal