Wilms' Tumor breakthrough funded by local "Karl's Tourney"

Group of scientists from The Hormel Foundation publish Wilms' Tumor research

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Researchers from the Cellular and Molecular Biology lab of The Hormel Institute had their cutting edge Wilms' Tumor research discovery published in the top cancer journal, Carcinogenesis. The research team was led by Dr. Kun Yeong Lee and included Drs. Young Jin Jeon, Hong Gyum Kim, Joohyun Ryu,  Do Young Lim, Sung Keun Jung, Dong Hoon Yu, Hanyong Chen, Ann M Bode and Zigang Dong.

"These results provide an important breakthrough in the field of cancer biology," said Dr. Ann M. Bode, Associate Director of The Hormel Institute.  "This discovery is important because it contributes significantly to a better understanding of the chameleon-like function of Wilms' Tumor genes."

Wilms' Tumor research started at The Hormel Institute in 2008 under the direction of Dr. Zigang Dong.  Since then, the annual "Karl's Tourney" golf tournament and fundraiser - held in Austin by friends and family of Dr. Kurt and Brenda Potach -  has donated $504,800 to The Hormel Institute's cancer research.   Kurt and Brenda lost their beloved 4-year-old son Karl to Wilms' Tumor cancer in 1997 and since then, their friends and family have raised money to support research and families affected by cancer in his honor.

Wilms’ tumor (or nephroblastoma) is a type of cancer that starts in the kidneys.  It is the most common type of kidney cancer in children and mutations in the Wilms’ tumor 1 (WT1) gene are associated Wilms’ Tumor.  The WT1 gene was thought to be a “tumor suppressor”, or a gene that helps keep cancer in check, however high levels of the WT1 gene were also found in several cancers, contradicting its tumor suppressor role.

Dr. Lee and team solved this dilemma as they discovered there were actually two versions of the gene – a long version and a short version. The short version was the traditional, well-studied gene that helped keep cancer in check (called augWTI), however the longer version of the gene (called cugWT1) actually helped cancers grow. Thus the two versions of the same gene had opposite effects on cancer. This study provides a fascinating example of the complex interplay of genes in our body.

Each year, about 500 new cases of Wilms' tumors are diagnosed in the United States. This number has been fairly stable for many years. About 5% of all cancers in children are Wilms' tumors. Wilms' tumors tend to occur in young children. The average age at diagnosis is about 3 to 4 years. It becomes less common as children grow older and is uncommon after age 6. It’s very rare in adults, although cases have been reported.

"We are greatly encouraged to see such progress," said Dr. Kurt Potach. He and his wife Brenda welcomed their first grandchild this year, a grandson born on Karl's birthday.

"Through research we aim to give hope and help to children and families - that Wilms' Tumor cancer  can be prevented altogether or that with new treatments those affected can live a long life.  We thank everyone who makes our donations from the Karl R. Potach Foundation possible - this progress reflects all who have supported and donated to the Karl's Tourney."

The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota - Started in 1942 by Jay C. Hormel, The Hormel Institute, UMN is comprised of a group of highly successful scientists who are focused on determining the basic molecular mechanisms of cancer development to develop new anti-cancer agents. In 2016 the Institute celebrated a major expansion, which doubled its size, adding 20 state-of-the-art laboratories and the Ray Live Learning Center, a 250-seat auditorium plus event room with advanced technology to facilitate international medical research collaborations and presentations. Overall, The Hormel Institute’s expansion is expected to add about 120 faculty and staff jobs in the next few years, growing the Institute to about 250 overall, and currently there are 17 research sections.  The Hormel Institute is a high achieving unit and part of the Masonic Cancer Center of the University of Minnesota.

Brenna Gerhart

Development Associate, The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota