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Building on basics

Profiling the Enemy

If Colleen Sweeney can figure out how to stop cancer cells from invading the bladder wall, she may transform bladder cancer from a potential killer into a curable disease.

Colleen Sweeney originally wanted to be an FBI profiler, but her undergraduate advisors at the University of Massachusetts talked her into pursuing a career in basic science.

A decade later, with a doctorate in biochemistry from Tufts University Medical School, Sweeney is a profiler for UC Davis Cancer Center.

Her current target: invasive bladder cancer cells. Like a forensic profiler, she wants to find out why these often-deadly cells behave the way they do — and how to stop them.

Eight in 10 people diagnosed with bladder cancer have a superficial tumor, one that is confined to the inner layers of the bladder. Standard treatment, cutting out the tumor, works only half the time. In the other half of the cases, the malignant growth recurs. Of these recurrent tumors, 10 to 20 percent invade the bladder wall. Even with the best available treatment, invasive bladder cancer has a 50-percent mortality rate.

“Understanding how invasion occurs is the big question in bladder cancer,” says Sweeney, an assistant professor of biological chemistry. “If we could control invasion, we could transform bladder cancer from a potential killer into a curable disease.”


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photoColleen Sweeney