The National Institutes of Health awarded $1.65 million to fund cancer research being done by Seetharama Jois, Ph.D., a professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the School of Basic Pharmaceutical and Toxicological Sciences at the University of Louisiana Monroe College of Pharmacy.
The research will be carried out in collaboration with Yong-Yu Liu, M.D., Ph.D., a cancer pharmacologist at the ULM College of Pharmacy, and a lung-cancer researcher from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
Director of the Office of Sponsored Programs and Research LaWanna Gilbert-Bell, said, "This is the second R01 awarded by NIH to the University since 2016. This is the highest award possible from the NIH. It reiterates and highlights the profound research being conducted by our distinguished faculty."
"ULM's faculty and staff continue to do remarkable things to ensure that our research matters and we remain a relevant force in public health," said John W. Sutherlin, Ph.D., Chief Innovation & Research Officer.
Jois is working with proteins from sunflower seeds, modifying them in the laboratory using mini-proteins called peptides to arrest the rapid growth of lung-cancer cells.
The process is called grafting.
"There are different kinds of lung cancer. I'm specifically looking at non-small cell lung cancer, which affects 85 percent of lung-cancer patients," Jois said.
Properties of peptide drugs can be beneficial to the body, but the problem, Jois said, is finding a way to deliver the drug.
"If we give the peptide drug orally, it will be digested, and it won't work. We can deliver the drug through IV, and it would work for a short time, but it will eventually get digested as well."
The use of the sunflower seed protein provides a stable platform, keeping the peptides from breaking up.
"I can make the unstable peptide stable through grafting, replacing some of the chemical group of the sunflower seed protein with what I want in the lab," Jois said.
Jois is concentrating on non-small cell lung cancer because "This type of lung cancer is hard to cure, and the survival rate of these patients is poor.”
Cancer spreads when affected cells multiply at a rapid rate. The problem with current treatments, Jois said, is that chemotherapy kills healthy cells as well as cancerous ones.
Jois also said available therapeutic agents help only a small number of patients, and they often develop resistance.
The grafted sunflower seed protein is being tested to see if the chemical interaction that causes cancer to spread can be interrupted.
Jois is testing the protein on cancer cells grown in a lab. "We have to make sure it does not kill noncancerous cells," he said. The next step is testing in a model system.
"What we are looking for is this: Will it work orally? We will check for the development of resistance, and find new ways to treat non-small cell lung cancer," Jois said.
The NIH grant will support research for five years.