Researchers find possible cancer cure
Professors receive $289K research grant
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 16:10
More than 35,000 people will die this year from pancreatic cancer. It is one of the deadliest cancers, with less than 6 percent of patients surviving five years after diagnosis, according to the National Cancer Institute.
The cancer has shown a resistance to traditional chemotherapy methods. Two researchers at UCF’s College of Medicine hope to develop a solution to this problem.
“Right now, when you’re diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, it’s essentially a death sentence,” said Otto Phanstiel, a co-investigator of the research. “We really don’t have any good drugs to treat that cancer.”
Phanstiel and Deborah Altomare have been awarded a $289,000 grant from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command to develop a new therapy that uses a polyamine transport inhibitor to prevent chemotherapy resistance by pancreatic cancer cells.
Polyamines are organic compounds that help cells grow and replicate, which can be a problem if the cells are cancerous.
In the past, a chemotherapy drug, difluoromethylornithine, or DFMO, had been used alone to prevent the production of polyamines inside cells. The cells found a way to survive.
“The cells get around this challenge by opening a door and importing polyamines from outside the cell,” Phanstiel said. “They do this by the polyamine transport system.”
The researchers hope to use PTI to fix this problem. PTI stops polyamines from entering cells from the outside. Used in combination with DFMO, the treatment should be highly effective.
“We’ll use DFMO to block the factory and PTI to block the door,” Phanstiel said. “Now the polyamines have no way to escape. Cells will be depleted of polyamines with no way to get more.
If the cells are starved of polyamines long enough, they will die, killing the cancer as well. The drug is expected to perform at different levels, anywhere from a cure to life extension and improved quality of life, Phanstiel said.
“When you have nothing, having something is better,” he said. “Right now we have nothing for these patients.”
There are high expectations because combination therapy has been used successfully in research labs on cats with other cancers. Phanstiel and Altomare’s grant was awarded Sept. 15 after showing that the treatment was effective on human pancreatic cancer cells in a petri dish.
In 2012, COM received $10.5 million in research grants, said Wendy Sarubbi of the COM Information and Publications Services office.
“Research at the COM is focused on cancer and cardiovascular, neurological and infectious diseases, basically the conditions that plague humankind,” Sarubbi said.
“Our faculty members are investigating causes and treatments for diseases ranging from pancreatic cancer to Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes to malaria.”
Phanstiel’s team is working to create the drug and test it on additional cell cultures. The most successful test will then be given to Altomare’s team of researchers, which will begin trials on mice with human pancreatic cancer. The leap from the lab to mice is expected to happen within the next two years.
“We make the drugs and they test them,” Phanstiel said.
If the research is successful, the team will then seek additional funding and a pharmaceutical company to partner with so human clinical trials can begin.
“If we are successful it may provide new hope for pancreatic cancer patients,” Phanstiel said.