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Research Update PAGANO SCHOLAR UPDATE 2021

Pagano Scholar Update 2021

Just as coaches measure success in wins and titles, research scientists measure success in grant funding and publications in respected medical journals. In 2020, the Chuck and Tina Pagano Scholar in Cancer Research overcame the limitations of the pandemic to record a winning season.

From March to June, in response to the pandemic, the team in the IU School of Medicine laboratory of Rachel Katzenellenbogen, MD, was forced to step away from their microscopes—a response to the pandemic. They focused on writing papers and grants, immersing themselves in new literature in their field, and learning new software for data analysis. The team’s off-season conditioning resulted in two newly published papers and two grants. Their prestigious cervical cancer research grant was renewed by the National Institutes of Health for more than $1.2 million over five years. The National Cancer Institute awarded the team a grant to fund studies in Kenya and Uganda looking at biomarkers that might predict cervical cancer progression in women who are HIV+ as opposed to women who are HIV-.

By early summer, the lab reopened under extensive safety protocols. Since then, Dr. Katzenellenbogen and her staff of three scientists have been in the lab weekly, usually at staggered times and while undergoing frequent COVID testing.

Dr. Katzenellebogen with her team
My team and I continue to be grateful for the support of the Pagano Scholar, and to all the donors who made it possible. -Rachel Katzenellenbogen, MD, Pagano Scholar in Cancer Research

Cervical Cancer Update

Dr. Katzenellenbogen’s research is focused on cervical cancer and HPV, the virus that causes it. HPV also causes some forms of head and neck cancer. Thanks to increased education, screening and prevention through the HPV vaccine, the incidence rate of cervical cancer is slowly declining, but HPV-related head and neck cancer rates continue to climb. Indiana has several pockets with higher-than-national-average rates of cervical cancer; this is mostly due to screening rates in these areas.

In 2020, the FDA formally expanded the approved use of the HPV vaccine to women and men through the age of 45. Also, experts from the American Cancer Society now recommend women ages of 25-65 receive a primary HPV test every five years. This is especially important since the pandemic led to a substantial decline in overall cancer prevention screenings. In the future, self-obtained/at-home tests for HPV should make the screenings accessible to far more women.

New to the Lab

Dr. Katzenellebogen with the REVOLVE microscope

The team is thrilled to have a REVOLVE microscope in the lab. Regular microscopes allow researchers to view plates and slides of cells from either above or below, but there is a great deal of value in being able to do both. The REVOLVE spins, allowing researchers to see wide fields of cells from a lens below a plate— and then zooming in closely to individual cells from above. Having this flexibility allows Dr. Katzenellebogen’s lab to observe their growth and behavior. The REVOLVE also includes a tablet with touchscreen interface to capture high-quality images and allows multiple lab members to view samples simultaneously.

Have a question about the safety or efficacy of the HPV vaccine for your family members? Dr. Katzenellenbogen would be happy to talk with you! Reach out at rkatzene@iu.edu.