Jacksonville's Mayo Clinic makes cancer research breakthrough

“I’ll never forget the phone call that I got on a Friday night at about 7:30 from the surgeon, telling me I had stage 4 cervical cancer that had metastasized to my ovaries and I need immediately a hysterectomy, radiation and chemotherapy,” cancer survivor Cynthia Weiss said.

Three years later, the cancer came back.

“I ended up going through more chemotherapy. I didn’t lose my hair this time, which is always a blessing,” Weiss said.

Now she works for Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, down the street from its cancer research lab, where researchers have made a discovery that could lead to a treatment that would turn cancer cells into normal cells.

“It’s like turning the clock back from an aggressive malignant cancer to a less malignant, benign cancer,” said Panos Anastasiadis, chairman of the Jacksonville Mayo Clinic Department of Cancer Biology.

Researcher Antonis Kourtidis discovered that molecules that hold cells together like glue can affect the molecules that control cell behavior, such as when cancer cells can’t stop growing.

“We know that these cells have lost their normal adhesion properties. So what we are trying to do is revert the effects of that,” Kourtidis said.

For Weiss, it means hope.

“We could very well cure cancer in our lifetime,” she said.

The work is far from over. Kourtidis said it could be another five years or more before the discovery could be used as a treatment.

The research so far has focused on breast, kidney and bladder cancers. Kourtidis said more research needs to be done to see if it works for all forms of cancer.