Project title: Targeting serotonin metabolism in SBNETs

Po Hien Ear, PhD The University of Iowa

Po Hien Ear, PhD
  • Status: Active
  • Year(s): 2022
  • Grant Type: Pilot
  • Research Type: Basic
  • Primary Tumor Site: Small Bowel
  • Area of Inquiry: Tumor biology and drug sensitivity


Small bowel neuroendocrine tumors (SBNETs) are the most common NETs of the gut and are highly invasive. They produce lots of serotonin, a small molecule that can induce SBNET patients to have excessive diarrhea and stiffening of the heart valves. The direct effect of serotonin on cancer cells remains understudied. Dr. Ear and her colleagues will explore blocking serotonin production in NET cells and making a tumor more sensitive to an anti-cancer drug. 

What critical NET problem/question will researchers try to answer?

Serotonin may be responsible for promoting the aggressive behavior of SBNETs and making them more drug resistant and difficult to treat.

Why is this important?

The researchers found that blocking serotonin in NET cells reduces tumor growth in a mouse model and make a tumor more sensitive to another anti-cancer drug.

What will the researchers do?

Dr. Ear and her colleagues will compare SBNETs with high and low serotonin levels in mouse models and patient tumors and then identify the ways in which serotonin makes SBNET cells more resistant to anti-cancer drugs.

How might this improve treatment of NETs?

These studies will shed light into new strategies for effectively targeting SBNETs. The researchers’ data suggest that serotonin acts as a shield, allowing SBNETs to rapidly invade and protecting them from anti-cancer drugs. Removing this shield from the SBNETs may weaken the cancer to the point where it can be killed by anti-cancer drugs.

What is the next step?

Although the focus here is on SBNETs, the data generated from this project could apply to other cancers such as lung NETs, pancreas NET, colon cancer, etc. since they have been reported to make serotonin as well.


Click below to watch an update from Dr. Ear:

Additional Details

  • City: Iowa City
  • State: Iowa
  • Country: United States
  • Grant Duration: 1 year
  • Sponsor: The Carol DeBacker Charitable Trust


NETRF funds laboratory research to understand the development of neuroendocrine tumors and translational research to explore new concepts in treatment. Research grant descriptions and research updates from NETRF are not intended to serve as medical advice. It can take years for research discoveries to be fully validated and approved for patient care. Always consult your health care providers about your treatment options.

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