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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Recent Work

The mission of the CRCC is the support of promising new directions of research into all aspects of cancer, including its origin, prevention and cure. The CRCC provides seed grants to faculty on the ten campuses, with the expectation that the most promising research will thereafter be funded by larger, long-term grants from other agencies. CRCC awards grants to new faculty to initiate cancer research projects, to established investigators in areas of research other than cancer to initiate cancer research projects, and to established investigators to initiate studies in new areas.

Rapid Enrichment and Detection of Extracellular Vesicles Enabled by CuS-Enclosed Microgels.


Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are cell-derived membranous vesicles that exist in nearly all biological fluids, including blood and urine; and carry a great number of cargo molecules such as protein, nucleic acids, and lipid. They may play important roles in cell-cell communication and modulation of pathological processes, which, however, are not yet well understood, calling for highly sensitive, specific, and rapid methods for EV detection and quantification in biological samples. Here, we report the CuS-enclosed microgels that not only help enrich EVs carrying specific protein markers from complex biomatrices, but also produce strong chemiluminescence (CL) to realize sensitive detection of the target EVs. A detection limit of 104 EV particles/mL was achieved with these microgels by targeting EV proteins like CD63 and HER2, with a dynamic range up to 108 particles/mL. Direct detection of EVs in human serum and cell culture medium without tedious sample preparation was demonstrated, consuming much less sample compared to ELISA and Western Blot. We envision that our method will be valuable for quick quantification of EVs in biological samples, benefiting disease monitoring and functional study.

Cover page of A DNA aptamer for binding and inhibition of DNA methyltransferase 1.

A DNA aptamer for binding and inhibition of DNA methyltransferase 1.


DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) are enzymes responsible for establishing and maintaining DNA methylation in cells. DNMT inhibition is actively pursued in cancer treatment, dominantly through the formation of irreversible covalent complexes between small molecular compounds and DNMTs that suffers from low efficacy and high cytotoxicity, as well as no selectivity towards different DNMTs. Herein, we discover aptamers against the maintenance DNA methyltransferase, DNMT1, by coupling Asymmetrical Flow Field-Flow Fractionation (AF4) with Systematic Evolution of Ligands by EXponential enrichment (SELEX). One of the identified aptamers, Apt. #9, contains a stem-loop structure, and can displace the hemi-methylated DNA duplex, the native substrate of DNMT1, off the protein on sub-micromolar scale, leading for effective enzymatic inhibition. Apt. #9 shows no inhibition nor binding activity towards two de novo DNMTs, DNMT3A and DNMT3B. Intriguingly, it can enter cancer cells with over-expression of DNMT1, colocalize with DNMT1 inside the nuclei, and inhibit the activity of DNMT1 in cells. This study opens the possibility of exploring the aptameric DNMT inhibitors being a new cancer therapeutic approach, by modulating DNMT activity selectively through reversible interaction. The aptamers could also be valuable tools for study of the functions of DNMTs and the related epigenetic mechanisms.

Cover page of Metabolite Responsive Nanoparticle-Protein Complex

Metabolite Responsive Nanoparticle-Protein Complex


Stimuli responsive polymers are an efficient means of targeted therapy.  Compared to conventional agents, they increase bioavailability and efficacy.  In particular, polymer hydrogel nanoparticles (NPs) can be designed to respond when exposed to a specific environmental stimulus such as pH or temperature. However, targeting a specific metabolite as the trigger for stimuli response could further elevate selectivity and create a new class of bioresponsive materials.  In this work we describe an N-isopropylacrylamide (NIPAm) NP that responds to a specific metabolite characteristic of a hypoxic environment found in cancerous tumors.  NIPAm NPs were synthesized by copolymerization with an oxamate derivative, a known inhibitor of lactate dehydrogenase (LDH).  The oxamate functionalized NPs (OxNP) efficiently sequestered LDH to produce an OxNP-protein complex.  When exposed to elevated concentrations of lactic acid, a substrate of LDH and a metabolite characteristic of hypoxic tumor microenvironments, OxNP-LDH complexes swelled (65%).  The OxNP-LDH complexes were not responsive to structurally related small molecules.  This work demonstrates a proof of concept for tuning NP responsiveness by conjugation with a key protein to target a specific metabolite of disease.

Cover page of Regulation of the T-box transcription factor Tbx3 by the tumour suppressor microRNA-206 in breast cancer

Regulation of the T-box transcription factor Tbx3 by the tumour suppressor microRNA-206 in breast cancer



The Tbx3 transcription factor is over-expressed in breast cancer, where it has been implicated in proliferation, migration and regulation of the cancer stem cell population. The mechanisms that regulate Tbx3 expression in cancer have not been fully explored. In this study, we demonstrate that Tbx3 is repressed by the tumour suppressor miR-206 in breast cancer cells.


Bioinformatics prediction programmes and luciferase reporter assays were used to demonstrate that miR-206 negatively regulates Tbx3. We examined the impact of miR-206 on Tbx3 expression in breast cancer cells using miR-206 mimic and inhibitor. Gene/protein expression was examined by quantitative reverse-transcription–PCR and immunoblotting. The effects of miR-206 and Tbx3 on apoptosis, proliferation, invasion and cancer stem cell population was investigated by cell-death detection, colony formation, 3D-Matrigel and tumorsphere assays.


In this study, we examined the regulation of Tbx3 by miR-206. We demonstrate that Tbx3 is directly repressed by miR-206, and that this repression of Tbx3 is necessary for miR-206 to inhibit breast tumour cell proliferation and invasion, and decrease the cancer stem cell population. Moreover, Tbx3 and miR-206 expression are inversely correlated in human breast cancer. Kaplan–Meier analysis indicates that patients exhibiting a combination of high Tbx3 and low miR-206 expression have a lower probability of survival when compared with patients with low Tbx3 and high miR-206 expression. These studies uncover a novel mechanism of Tbx3 regulation and identify a new target of the tumour suppressor miR-206.


The present study identified Tbx3 as a novel target of tumour suppressor miR-206 and characterised the miR-206/Tbx3 signalling pathway, which is involved in proliferation, invasion and maintenance of the cancer stem cell population in breast cancer cells. Our results suggest that restoration of miR-206 in Tbx3-positive breast cancer could be exploited for therapeutic benefit.

Cover page of Erythrocyte-derived nano-probes functionalized with antibodies for targeted near infrared fluorescence imaging of cancer cells

Erythrocyte-derived nano-probes functionalized with antibodies for targeted near infrared fluorescence imaging of cancer cells


Constructs derived from mammalian cells are emerging as a new generation of nano-scale platforms for clinical imaging applications. Herein, we report successful engineering of hybrid nano-structures composed of erythrocyte-derived membranes doped with FDA-approved near infrared (NIR) chromophore, indocyanine green (ICG), and surface-functionalized with antibodies to achieve molecular targeting. We demonstrate that these constructs can be used for targeted imaging of cancer cells in vitro. These erythrocyte-derived optical nano-probes may provide a potential platform for clinical translation, and enable molecular imaging of cancer biomarkers.

Cover page of Syrbactin Structural Analog TIR-199 Blocks Proteasome Activity And Induces Tumor Cell Death.

Syrbactin Structural Analog TIR-199 Blocks Proteasome Activity And Induces Tumor Cell Death.


Multiple myeloma (MM) is an aggressive hematopoietic cancer of plasma cells. The recent emergence of three effective FDA-approved proteasome-inhibiting drugs, bortezomib (Velcade), carfilzomib (Kyprolis), and ixazomib (Ninlaro) confirms that proteasome inhibitors are therapeutically useful against neoplastic disease, in particular refractory MM and mantle cell lymphoma. This study describes the synthesis, computational affinity assessment, and preclinical evaluation of TIR-199, a natural product-derived syrbactin structural analog. Molecular modeling and simulation suggested TIR-199 covalently binds each of the three catalytic subunits (β1, β2 and β5) and revealed key interaction sites. In vitro and cell culture-based proteasome activity measurements confirmed that TIR-199 inhibits the proteasome in a dose-dependent manner and induces tumor cell death in multiple myeloma and neuroblastoma cells as well as other cancer types in the NCI-60 cell panel. It is particularly effective against kidney cancer cell lines, with more than 250-fold higher anti-tumor activities than observed with the natural product syringolin A (SylA). In vivo studies in mice revealed a maximum tolerated dose (MTD) of TIR-199 at 25 mg/kg. The anti-tumor activity of TIR-199 was confirmed in hollow fiber assays in mice. Adverse drug reaction screens in a kidney panel revealed no off-targets of concern. This is the first study to examine the efficacy of a syrbactin in animals. Taken together, the results suggest that TIR-199 is a potent new proteasome inhibitor with promise for further development into a clinical drug for the treatment of multiple myeloma and other forms of cancer.

Cover page of Copy number networks to guide combinatorial therapy of cancer and proliferative disorders

Copy number networks to guide combinatorial therapy of cancer and proliferative disorders


Interaction networks can be charted by seeking gene pairs that are amplified and/or deleted in tandem, even when located at a distance on the genome. Our experience with radiation hybrid (RH) panels, a library of cell clones that have been used for genetic mapping, have shown this tool can pinpoint statistically significant patterns of co-inherited gene pairs. In fact, we were able to identify gene pairs specifically associated with the mechanism of cell survival at single gene resolution. Further, the RH network can be used to provide single gene specificity for cancer networks constructed from correlated copy number alterations (CNAs). In a survival network for glioblastoma, we found that the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) oncogene interacted with 46 genes. Of these genes, ten (22%) happened to be targets for existing drugs. Here, we highlight the potential of CNA networks to guide combinatorial drug treatment in cancer, autoimmunity and atherosclerosis.