Moffitt Cancer Center Researchers Recognized For Contributions To Cancer Research

March 24, 2010

Tampa, FL– A team of researchers from Moffitt Cancer Center and the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center in North Carolina is being recognized for its contributions to cancer research in a recent issue of PLoS One Journal.

The team, led by Moffitt’s Nupam Mahajan, Ph.D., is studying the activation of cancer cells through the AKT protein. The AKT protein is found in most cells of the human body and is briefly activated for normal functioning. However, when AKT is activated for prolonged periods of time or the intensity of its activation is abnormally increased, it may result in a rapid growth of cells. This can cause cancer and has been directly linked to the development of prostate, breast, pancreatic and lung cancers.

Research shows that a signaling between the proteins Ack1 and AKT may be the link that initiates some forms of cancers. “This discovery impacts the future of cancer and cancer care,” Mahajan said. “Now that we understand the precise mechanism of AKT activation, we can design a new class of drugs, which was not previously possible.”

To understand this phenomenon, the researchers studied the modification of AKT to recognize what causes its activation and how it is triggered in both normal and cancer cells. The team used a variety of cancer cells and genetically engineered mice to demonstrate the novel modification in one amino acid, which results in the AKT activation, and signals the rapid growth of cells.

“There is a high likelihood that by understanding this new protein activation, it could help inhibit cancer growth,” Mahajan said.

The researchers are now searching for drugs that could stop the activation of Ack1 and AKT, which could diminish the growth of tumors in cancer patients. The team is also developing specific antibodies that may help screen pre-cancerous patients for cancer.

The key researchers participating in this study include:


  • Nupam Mahajan, Ph.D., Moffitt Cancer Center
  • Kiran Mahajan, Ph.D., Moffitt Cancer Center
  • Domenico Coppola, M.D., Moffitt Cancer Center
  • John Koomen, Ph.D., Moffitt Cancer Center
  • H. Shelton Earp, M.D., UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center

For more information on the study, visit

About the Public Library of Science

The Public Library of Science (PLoS) is a non-profit organization of scientists and physicians committed to making the world's scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource. For more information, visit

About Moffitt Cancer Center

Located in Tampa, Florida, Moffitt Cancer Center  is an NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center - a designation that recognizes Moffitt’s excellence in research and contributions to clinical trials, prevention and cancer control. Moffitt currently has 15 affiliates in Florida, one in Georgia and two in Puerto Rico. Additionally, Moffitt is a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, a prestigious alliance of the country’s leading cancer centers, and is listed in U.S. News & World Report as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” for cancer. Moffitt’s sole mission is to contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer.