NYU, USC study finds potential cancer treatment

September 18, 2013

Felipe De La Hoz/WSN

Felipe De La Hoz/WSN

A collaborative research project between NYU and the University of Southern California may have made a breakthrough in cancer treatment. According to a university press release, the research groups led by NYU chemistry professor Paramjit Arora and USC School of Pharmacy professor Bogdan Olenyuk have developed a new synthetic molecule that blocks the expression of genes that lead to tumor progression.

Their research showed that the synthetic molecule, called a protein domain mimetic, successfully blocked cell signaling and quic- kly stemmed cancer growth. The molecule exhibits high potential for the development of human cancer treatments, after showing low toxicity to the host body and general compatibility for the host.

Arora said the approach of this project differs from the approaches of other research in drug discovery.

“Typical drugs target enzymes but fail against protein-protein interactions, which are generally considered to be ‘undruggable,’” Arora said. “The significance of this work is that our designed compounds inhibit these recalcitrant interactions.”

The next step in the research process is to improve the synthetic molecule’s compatibility to human subjects.

Arora and Olenyuk first met when they studied together at the California Institute of Technology. Olenyuk is an expert in the biology and pharmacology of signaling pathways.

Since it began in 2007, this cancer research project has included three NYU graduate students and four USC students.

Brooke Lao, co-lead author on the paper and a doctoral candidate at NYU, is enthusiastic about the results of the project so far.

“It is exciting and validating to see the compounds you synthesized make it all the way to an animal study,” Lao said.

Currently, more extensive animal studies are needed before a timeframe can be determined for clinical trials. However, Lao states that the ultimate goal of the project would be for the compounds to become readily available drugs for patients who need them.

For some students studying medicine at NYU, research of this caliber is a goalpost to work toward in their time at NYU. Pre-med CAS sophomore Rijul Asri stated that this research indicates NYU’s instrumental role in research in general.

“One of the main reasons I decided to major in chemistry here at NYU was the incredible research going on with regards to biology and medicine,” Asri said. “The work of professors Arora and Olenyuk is truly inspirational and proves the importance of chemical research in contemporary medicine. I am really excited to learn more about the mechanism they devised and to see how it will be applied to ongoing cancer research.”

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Sept. 18 print edition. Fay Lin is a staff writer. Email her at news@nyunews.com. 

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