On Your Side Investigators: U.Va researchers make potential cancer breakthrough

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (WWBT) - Chances are, you know someone right now, who is battling cancer. The disease, in all its forms, takes millions of lives each year. Which is why we turn your attention to a hopeful new discovery from researchers at the University of Virginia.

Alone in her lab, filled with vials of her research, Neveen Said is in that slow race against cancer's quick ticking clock. Science is her job, but it's also a passion.

"Everyone knows someone or has someone in the family with cancer," said Neveen.

Said's watched aunts and uncle's lose their battle. She's watched her sister and several friends go through treatment.

"To me it's very important work. I hope I can develop it at a faster pace to benefit more people," said Neveen.

She's discovered that a mysterious protein, found in most organs, can actually prevent cancer cells from growing and expanding. The protein is called SPARC (secreted protein acidic and rich in cysteine) and she's studied it in bladder cancer.

"Cancer cells, as they progress they lose it. Meanwhile, the body around these cancer cells try to maintain it, to try to battle the growing cancer cells," said Neveen.

She injected SPARC into bladder cancer tumors and discovered the tumors stopped growing.

"They don't invade the surrounding tissue. Basically, tumors become smaller," said Neveen.

She's trying to learn if there's a way to restore SPARC to tumors, finding a better way to treat the cancer and stop it. She knows it early in the research, and she still needs to develop ways to use this discovery in actual patients outside her lab.

But she says, if she can help just one person, "that would be great. More than that? It's the dream."

Neveen believes we could be looking at a new way to treat not only bladder cancer, but other forms of the disease. Her research was published this year in the Journal of Clinical Investigations.

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