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Researchers at SMU Discover More Effective Treatment Options For Cervical Cancer

A sign says SMU.
Before working at SMU, Robert Harrod worked at the National Institute for Health, studying HIV and a virus that can cause leukemia.

Researchers at Southern Methodist University (SMU) have discovered a way to more effectively treat cervical cancer with lower chemotherapy doses and fewer side effects.

The key is a protein called TIGAR, which is found in various forms of cancer cells, including cervical cancer cells. Researchers found that if they decreased the TIGAR protein, it made the cells hypersensitive to chemotherapy treatments. In the long run, this could mean a shorter period of treatment for patients and fewer side effects to healthy cells in their bodies.

Robert Harrod, a biological sciences professor at SMU who runs a lab, has seen this project evolve over a few decades.

“We're finding out something new every day, putting in new pieces of the puzzle that advances the field for us, advances our knowledge and leads us in new directions,” Harrod said. “We're looking at cellular pathways now that I hadn't even considered 10 years ago.”

He and research students in his lab study how viruses infect cells, and why some cells become cancerous and others do not. The lab has gotten grant funding from the National Cancer Institute for these projects.

“It's almost not work,” Harrod said. “Really, research for me is fascinating. I love the questions that we ask. I love the science of discovery.”

Now the lab is working on ways to inhibit the TIGAR protein, since there isn’t a drug that does that yet, and Harrod said they’re probably a few years out from development.

Got a tip? Email Elena Rivera at You can follow Elena on Twitter @elenaiswriting.

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Elena Rivera is the health reporter at KERA. Before moving to Dallas, Elena covered health in Southern Colorado for KRCC and Colorado Public Radio. Her stories covered pandemic mental health support, rural community health access issues and vaccine equity across the region.