Janine Erler receives the Danish Cancer Society’s Junior Researcher Award – University of Copenhagen

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31 May 2016

Janine Erler receives the Danish Cancer Society’s Junior Researcher Award

THE DANISH CANCER SOCIETY’S JUNIOR RESEARCHER AWARD

Janine Erler studies the methods cancer cells use to spread through the body. She has shown that the enzyme LOX is an important tool, which operates both in the area where the cancer tumour is located but also as a messenger preparing organs in other parts of the body for the fact that the cancer cells may spread. She hopes that her findings will lead to new treatments. At the weekend, as one of two talented young SUND cancer researchers, Janine Erler received the Danish Cancer Society’s Junior Researcher Award.

The enzyme LOX plays an important role when cancer cells spread through a body, because the cancer cells release LOX in the area where they occur and thus change their immediate surroundings, which eases their ability to spread. One example is breast tissue, naturally endowed with a number of twisted fibre structures, which it is difficult for cancer cells to penetrate. However, LOX alters the structure by way of straightening the fibres, which in turn enables the cancer cells to move along the fibres as if they were highways leading away from the breast tissue.

Researcher and Associate Professor Janine Erler from the Biotech Research & Innovation Center (BRIC), was the first to describe the function of the LOX enzyme. She is one of this year’s recipients of the Danish Cancer Society’s Junior Researcher Award. 38-year-old Janine Erler has spent 16 years studying cancer, and in the last four years, she has been group leader at BRIC. Janine Erler studies one of the most dangerous characteristics of cancer cells, namely their ability to spread through the body. And in this process, the LOX enzyme plays an important role - in more ways than one.

In addition to affecting the tumour’s immediate environment, the LOX enzyme has another more cunning ability.

“Cancer cells release LOX into the body, which enables it to reach areas that are still cancer free. In the shape of a messenger, LOX affects the properties of other organs in other areas of the body, making it easier for the cancer cells to settle there as well. LOX alters the architecture of the organs, enabling them to house the cancer cells,” Janine Erler explains.

By measuring the level of the LOX enzyme in cancer patients, Janine Erler has shown that it is possible to predict the course of the disease in patients with head and throat cancer. And based on her research, it has been possible to develop medicine that blocks the process initiated by the LOX enzyme. The drug is currently being tested on patients.

Personalising personal treatments even further

Over the coming years, Janine Erler will continue her research on the LOX enzyme and the role it plays in various types of cancer. One of her goals is to get a better understanding of the process in order to locate areas for treatment. Another goal is developing an anti-body specifically targeting the LOX enzyme, with the aim of developing better treatments. After all, helping patients is Janine Erler’s primary goal.
Her research also forms the basis of a future research project, which focuses on tailoring tailor-made drugs even further. The goal here is testing individual cancer tumours in patients to see which genes and molecules contain irregularities. On the basis of these tests, a number of medical treatments will be decided on, which in theory should work on the patient in question, after which the treatments will be tested on the patient’s own cancer cells, grown in a lab by Janine Erler.

“Today, many patients are treated with drugs that turn out to be ineffective in terms of the disease, yet they cause side effects. By testing the drugs in a laboratory, we hope to be able to select the most efficient drugs with the fewest side effects right from the start,” Janine Erler explains.

Read about this year’s other Junior Researcher Award winner, Simon Bekke-Jensen.

About the Junior Researcher Award

Each year, the Danish Cancer Society awards two Junior Researcher Awards to young, promising researchers who have performed exceptionally well in Danish cancer research. The award amounts to DKK 75,000.