July 23, 2001
No translation needed
By Eric Rangus email@example.com
"A common pharmacore for epothilone and taxanes.
p53 is associated with cellular microtubules and is transported
to the nucleus by dynein.
The titles of the above articles give nothing away regarding their content.
In fact, their very intimidating vocabulary would frighten away many readersexcept
for maybe a cancer researcher, who would quickly scour the pieces for
the latest information on commonalties between taxanes (a family of effective
chemotherapy drugs that unfortunately can lose effectiveness when patients
become resistant) and epothilones, a newer, more versatile type of chemotherapy
drug (the first article).
Or how p53, a tumor-suppressor protein that becomes inactive in many
cancers, moves from a cells cytoplasm to its nucleus along microtubuleswhich
form a cells skeleton, basicallyusing a protein called dynein,
and how cancer cells can disrupt this sensitive process by damaging the
microtubules (the second article).
Perhaps the best way to decipher these pieces is to ask the primary author
of each, Paraskevi Giannakakou of the Winship Cancer Institute.
p53 is inactive in almost 50 percent of tumors in the clinic,
said Giannakakou, assistant professor of hematology/ oncology and pharmacology
in the Winship Cancer Institute. The article on p53 was published in last
Octobers Nature Cell Biology, one month before Giannakakou came
to Emory. At the time, she was finishing a postdoctoral fellowship at
the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Md.
When it is inactive, there is no tumor suppression, and the tumor
can go on, she continued. p53, to be active, has to go from
the cytoplasm to the nucleus, where it binds DNA and activates genes leading
to growth arrest and apoptosis. If it is mutating, it can go to the nucleus,
but it cannot bind DNA.
Researchers, however, had never known how p53 traveled from a cells
cytoplasm to its nucleusuntil Giannakakou found out.
I investigated the potential interaction with the microtubule cytoskeleton
because I thought maybe microtubules would be the tracks on which p53
traffics to translocate to the nucleus, she said. Which is exactly
The finding is significant because anti-cancer agents attack microtubule
networks in the process of killing cancer cells.
Giannakakou joined the Winship Cancer Institute last November after finishing
her NCI fellowship. She earned her PhD jointly from NCI and the University
of Athens in her native Greece, which is where she received her bachelors
degree in pharmacology.
I always wanted to do cancer research, said Gianna-kakou,
who goes by Evi to her friends and co-workers. She speaks
English fluently but retains a distinctive Greek accent.
In particular I was interested in the development of drug resistance
in cancer. We know, for example, that very often patients respond to cancer
chemotherapy, and later on they fail because they have become resistant
to the chemotherapy agents. So one way to make cancer chemotherapy more
effective is to understand the mechanism in which drug resistance arises
and try to find the ways to overcome [it].
Just 33, quite young for a top-level cancer researcher, Giannakakou has progressed rapidly in her field and is a leading authority in the molecular investigation of drug resistance to cancer.
Giannakakou knew early in her career that, to make an impact, she might
have to move away from home.
When I started my Ph.D in Greece [in 1993], after the first year
I realized I hadnt had the opportunity to be exposed to cutting-edge
molecular biology techniques, Giannakakou said. So I looked
at [other] labs in Europe and the U.S. that were dealing with drug resistance
in cancer. I did some research, pulled some names and wrote letters. I
came to the U.S. for some interviews, and NCI was the most appealing.
In many ways, a move to Emory following her postdoc was ideal. Giannakakou
is a translational researcher, a type of study that seeks to apply new
scientific understanding directly to clinical care. It is one of Winships
guiding philosophies and a type of research strongly supported by its
director, Jonathon Simons.
Jonathon wanted to make [Winship] a translational cancer research
center, and that was a big attraction for me, Gianna-kakou said.
The environment here is becoming more and more exciting, with a
lot of new recruiting. That will make this environment very intellectually
The fact that Emory had offered Giannakakous husband, Dimitris
Papanicolau, an assistant professorship in endocrinology played a role
in Giannakakous move to Atlanta, as well. The two met in Bethesda
in 1995 when Papanicolau, another Greek native, was a fellow at the International
Institute of Child and Human Development. They married in 1999.
Upon first looking at Emory Giannakakou contacted associate professor
Margaret Offermann, who suggested she send her vitae to Simons. An interview
followed, and Simonswho was impressed with Giannakakous workinvited
her to give a presentation at Winship where she met some of the faculty.
Soon she was offered her professorship.
It was amazing, because I had not heard of the Winship Cancer Institute
before, and I dont think the positions were advertised extensively,
She now runs a lab that has swelled to six researchers over the summer.
This fall, after summer interns depart, it will drop back down to about
I never intended to stay [in this country], Giannakakou said.
I wanted to come, do the work for my thesis, then go back. But I
love research so much, and when I saw the kind of research I could do
here, it was impossible for me to go back.
Giannakakou has traveled the world attending conferences (upcoming journeys
include trips to France, Switzerland and Poland) and she speaks four languages:
French and Italian, in addition to English and her native Greek. But in
her line of work, knowing English is essential since all of the jargon
is English-based, she said.
English is the universal language, Giannakakou said. Any
researcher in any given country needs to know English in order to keep
up with the literature and publish.
Its an easy language to learn, she continued. Compared to Greek, at least.