|Dr. Aleem Gangjee|
"There are several drugs that try to inhibit synthesis of DNA," Gangjee said. "But they are extremely toxic."
Gangjee, a native of India, wanted his compounds to be so selective that they would impact cancer cells alone, not normal cells. To do so, he focused on a specific system, called a transport system that is expressed only in select tumor cells. The system is not expressed in normal cells, so the mechanism itself avoids toxicity.
This transport system shuttles chemicals from outside cancer cells to the inside of the cells, carrying Gangjee's tumor-fighting compounds like a Trojan horse, fighting cancer from the inside out. These compounds hitch a ride on a transport system special to certain types of ovarian, breast, liver, lung and colon cancers. Once they gain entry to the cancer cells, they selectively block the signaling systems involved in synthesizing DNA.
"To our knowledge, this is the only type of targeted therapy that deals with transport into tumor cells using a folate transporter," Gangjee said. "The killing mechanism in these cells brings another advantage, that is, the compounds indirectly inhibit the signaling machinery" of cancer cells.
"It is wonderfully selective, exquisitely selective and very, very potent," said Gangjee, a native of India who previously had used a different transporter as his Trojan horse. "The beauty is we do this selectively in tumor cells only, because our drugs don't get into the normal cells."
Gangjee's lab employs 14 people, including graduate assistants.
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Source: Duquesne University