As reported by the Herald, July 11, 2006.

Moving a Step Closer

By Jason Pheasant

FARMINGTON - For more than 25 years, cancer researcher Joan Caron has devoted countless hours working toward finding a cure for others, long before she knew the battle would become a personal one.

Through her research, Caron has recently come across a new compound that works toward killing cancer cells without harming normal ones. While her findings may eventually cure cancer, there is also the possibility that it can be done without the same side effects as chemotherapy.

"It's what every scientist hopes for - you work your whole life to get to this point," said Caron, an assistant professor in the department of cell biology at the University of Connecticut Health Center who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Her research focuses on how filaments attach themselves to one end of the nucleus and cell membranes to the other. She noticed that the cancer cells attachment is different than it is in healthy cells and her drug affects the microtubules, which according to Caron, is the primary area of focus when designing many anti-cancer drugs.

Despite publishing her work a few years ago on the nature of microtubule-membrane interaction, scientists still remained skeptical that it, in fact, was a way to eliminate cancer. As a result, Caron ran into problems getting funding to continue her research.

In 2000, Lea's Foundation for Leukemia Research stepped in and provided her with the funding necessary to continue on with her work. The foundation helped Caron with annual grants of $10,000 for supplies, which it continued with for several years before granting $45,000 each year to cover the salary of a laboratory assistant.

"I want to give them a lot of credit, when the federal government wouldn't give me funding, they took a risk with me and helped me with my research, I wouldn't have been able to finish the research without them," she said. Recently, Caron has received additional funding from the American Heart Association and the Connecticut Breast Health Initiative.

After Caron had realized what her findings meant, she went back over them again and again to make sure they were correct.

"The first thing you do is to think about if it's false and are there any ways in which it could be," she said.

After re-evaluating her data, Caron realized that she could find nothing that would prove her hypothesis wrong and knew she had a scientific breakthrough in the making.

"It's just an amazing feeling that everything fell into place, I recognized that something was different ... I truly believe that it will be helpful," she said.

Caron's research continues and she hopes that her discovery may eliminate cancer. The next step, according to The Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center Web site, is to test the compound on blood from people with leukemia and on normal blood and then test the drug on animal models.