The People of Tulane Cancer Center Research

Aline BetancourtAline Betancourt, PhD
Research Assistant Professor of Microbiology
Tulane Cancer Center Program Member

Contact Information
Phone: 504-988-1934
Address: 1601 Perdido Street, New Orleans, LA 70112 70112

Biographical Narrative

Dr. Betancourt received her B.S. in Biochemistry from Tulane University in 1985. She received her Ph.D. in 1992 in Microbiology from Georgetown University Medical Center and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in 1993 at the National Institutes of Health, Laboratory of Cellular Carcinogenesis and Tumor Promotion, National Cancer Institute. She completed a second fellowship in 1997 at the Tulane Cancer Center, Department of Pharmacology, Tulane University Medical Center, She joined the Tulane faculty in 1997 as a Research Instructor and became a Research Assistant Professor in 1999.

Dr. Betancourt's research focuses on oxygen-sensing genetic mechanisms, post-transcriptional control of oxygen-regulated genes, RNA binding proteins, angiogenesis and cancer research. Tumors require the formation of new blood vessels, angiogenesis, to grow. Targeting angiogenesis provides a novel approach for cancer therapy that rivals conventional therapy since drug resistance and tissue toxicity issues are avoided. Tumor angiogenesis depends on a balance between tumor-dependent angiogenic factors like VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) and host anti-angiogenic peptides like endostatin and angiostatin. The ability to alter this balance by favoring the anti-angiogenic effect by treatment with exogenous endostatin and angiostatin has been demonstrated. However, a major difficulty in translating these strategies to the clinic is the lack of large quantities of these peptides for long-term treatment. An alternative strategy to disturb this balance is to disrupt VEGF or other angiogenic factor production. EGF, like the hematopoietic growth factor erythropoietin (Epo), is usually synthesized following low oxygen or hypoxic stress. Since VEGF is a potent mitogen for vascular endothelial cells this response represents a means to quickly develop new blood vessels to bring oxygenated red blood cells and rescue the stressed tissue. Growing tumor cells become hypoxic and trigger or exploit this normal physiologic process. VEGF and Epo induction by hypoxia is largely controlled at the level of message stability. Post-transcriptional mechanisms have been implicated for VEGF and Epo since a physiologic drop in oxygen tension leads to induction of gene expression. However, increases in mRNA transcription does not exactly parallel the observed increased level of expression; thus it has been postulated that post-transcriptional stabilization of the normally labile VEGF and Epo mRNAs may account for the observed increased VEGF and Epo levels. Investigations in this laboratory have identified a complex of proteins, erythropoietin mRNA binding protein complex (ERBP30 and 70), in cytoplasmic lysates of human hepatocellular carcinoma (Hep3B) cells which specifically bind to a 120 nucleotide (nt) region in the 3' untranslated region (UTR) of Epo mRNA, VEGF mRNA as well as tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) mRNA. Additionally, a stabilizing role has been suggested for this region from studies in which deletion of this 120 nt region lead to an unchanged mRNA half-life in response to hypoxia (6 hrs) as compared to a forty percent increase in half-life observed for the wild-type mRNA. Production of VEGF and Epo is likely to be controlled post-transcriptionally by specific binding of the ERBP30 and ERBP70 complex to the 3' UTR of the VEGF and Epo mRNA. Current efforts are centered on understanding oxygen-sensing at the post-transcriptional level with the hypothesis that ERBP30 and ERBP70 are common post-transcriptional factors involved in oxygen-sensing.

Selected Publications
Scandurro AB, McGary E, Rondon IJ, Wilson R, Beckman BS. (1995) Redox and heat shock protein HSP70 affect the binding of erythropoietin RNA binding protein to erythropoietin mRNA. Acta Hematologica 93: 216.

Scandurro AB, Rondon IJ, Wilson RB, Tennenbaum SA, Garry RF, Beckman BS. (1997) Interaction of erythropoietin RNA binding protein with mRNA requires an association with heat shock protein 70. Kidney Int 51(2): 579-584.

Mallia CM, Aguirre V, McGary E, Tang Y, Scandurro AB, Liu C, Noguchi CT, Beckman BS. (1998) Protein kinase C is an effector of hexamethylene bisacetamide-induced differentiation of friend erythroleukemia cells. Exp Cell Res 246: 348-354.

Scandurro AB, Beckman BS. (1998) Common Proteins bind mRNAs encoding Erythropoietin, Tyrosine Hydroxylase and Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor. Biochem Biophys Res Comm 246: 436-440.

Ohigashi T, Mallia CS, McGary E, Scandurro AB, Rondon IJ, Fisher JW, Beckman BS. (1999) Protein kinase C alpha protein expression is necessary for sustained erythropoietin production in human hepatocellular carcinoma (Hep3B) cells exposed to hypoxia. Biochim Biophys Acta 1450(2): 109-18.

Godin DA, Fitzpatrick PC, Scandurro AB, Belafsky PC, Woodworth BA. Amedee RG, Beech DJ, Beckman BS. (2000) PH20: a novel tumor marker for laryngeal cancer. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 126(3): 402-4.


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