September 2013

The hyaluronan connection

From Type 1 diabetes to cutaneous melanoma

Logo for the JBC/Herb Tabor Young Investigator AwardNadine Nagy and Sanna Pasonen-Seppänen were named the joint winners of the Herbert Tabor Young Investigator awards at the 2013 International Hyaluronan Conference in June in Oklahoma City.
Nagy, a postdoctoral research fellow in the laboratory of Thomas N. Wight at the Benaroya Research Institute in Seattle, was recognized for her work investigating the role of hyaluronan and associated extracellular matrix molecules in the development and progression of Type 1 diabetes.
Her novel findings indicate that alterations in hyaluronan and hyaluronan-associated molecules accompany the invasion and destruction of pancreatic islet tissue by T cells and may create a permissive environment for autoimmune attacks. She aims to facilitate the use of hyaluronan-directed therapies as a potential means to prevent juvenile diabetes in the future.
Nadine NagyNagy received her Ph.D. from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, where she studied the role of hyaluronan in chronic atherosclerosis. She then completed a postdoctoral stint at the neighboring University of Dusseldorf.
“Hyaluronan is a fascinating molecule that functions as pro- or anti-inflammatory in a disease- and progression-specific context,” explains Nagy. Type 1 diabetes “is an interesting and challenging disease to work on. The incidence and prevalence is rising annually. Currently, there is no effective therapy, and the triggering mechanism is still not known. The JBC Herb Tabor Young Investigator Award is an enormous honor and a great motivation to pursue my research.”
Sanna Pasonen-SeppänenPasonen-Seppänen, an assistant professor in the University of Eastern Finland, was recognized for her work studying the role of stromal cells in the progression of cutaneous melanoma. Her research includes investigations into the role of hyaluronan in tumor and stromal cell interactions.
Pasonen-Seppänen received her Ph.D. from the University of Kuopio in Finland under the guidance of Raija Tammi and Markku Tammi. Her doctoral dissertation thesis, for which she received the university’s Best Thesis Award in 2006, focused on the effect of epidermal growth factor and keratinocyte growth factor on metabolism of hyaluronan and keratinocyte differentiation.
Her current research focuses on the role of hyaluronan in the progression of cutaneous melanoma. Her studies have demonstrated that melanoma cells activate the phosphatidylinositol 3′-kinase(PI3K)-Akt signaling pathway in fibroblasts, resulting in hyaluronan synthase upregulation and enhanced hyaluronan production. This is accompanied with increased matrix metalloproteinase 9 production and increased invasion of the fibroblasts in the matrix. Additionally, her studies suggest that hyaluronan expression inversely correlates with melanoma aggressiveness. These findings indicate that hyaluronan may favor tumor progression in the early stage of melanoma, when melanoma cells lose their contacts to keratinocytes and start to invade.

Kamalika SahaKamalika Saha ( is a graduate student in the biochemistry and molecular biology department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

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