UB scientist explores hormone, cancer link
The UB scientist whose basic research in the 1970s led to the development of the take-home pregnancy test is exploring a possible link between the hormone that test detects and some cancers.
"There is a lot of evidence in the literature that points to the fact that human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) is involved in the development of some malignant tumors," said Om Bahl, professor of biological sciences.
According to Bahl, current diagnostic tests detect up to 70 or 80 percent of tumors. If hCG is involved in tumor development, he added, expanding cancer-screening efforts to test for it or its subunits might increase the yield in terms of tumors detected by 2-3 percent.
The hormone's normal function, said Bahl, is the one with which scientists-and any woman who has had a baby-are most familiar. During the first trimester of pregnancy, it stimulates the production of hormones necessary for implantation of the fertilized egg and the maintenance of pregnancy.
Tissue growth function is suspect
The hormone also promotes tissue growth and it is that function that could have a link with cancer, Bahl explains. The largest amounts of human chorionic gonadotropin are produced by uterine tumors; lung and testicular tumors also produce it.
The early-pregnancy tests used today are designed to detect hCG in urine. They are based on results of Bahl's research some 20 years ago, which later was licensed from UB by Carter-Wallace, Inc.
Bahl's new preliminary studies are examining the role of hCG as a growth factor in tumors.
Specifically, he is looking at the intracellular signaling mechanisms that are responsible for hCG's cellular growth-promotion and differentiation properties.
"We want to answer the cause-and-effect question," said Bahl. "We don't know if it is hCG that causes the tumors or the other way around."
Bahl said it already is known that hCG induces genes responsible for producing proteins that regulate growth.
"Excessive growth would indicate that these genes are being continually activated," he said.
Sub-units in hCG isolated in 1970
In 1970, Bahl isolated the subunits in hCG, only one of which is specific to the hormone. That work and subsequent research he performed at UB resulted in the development of the widely used pregnancy test, which can detect pregnancies in urine as early as one month after conception.
Bahl's patent for the antigen used in the early-pregnancy test was awarded to the Research Foundation of the State University of New York in 1981.
A UB faculty member since 1966, Bahl continuously has received research grants since then from the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization.
A winner of the prestigious Schoellkopf Award of the American Chemical Society, he is listed in "Who's Who in America," "Who's Who in Frontiers of Science and Technology" and "Who's Who in American Education."
Bahl was honored with the Medical and Life Science Award of the National Council of Asian Indian Organizations in North America and was a Dernham Fellow of the American Cancer Society.
He served as chair of the Department of Biological Sciences from 1976-83.
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