LAWRENCE — In the ongoing fight against cancer, the most pressing problem isn’t how to kill diseased cells. Researchers figured that out years ago. Today’s challenge is finding a way to kill cancer cells without damaging healthy tissue.
Jennifer Laurence, associate professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy, has earned a Coulter Foundation Transitional Research Award to support her innovative research into methods for improving the delivery of cancer treatments within the body.
Platinum has long been used in the treatment of cancer, but despite the metal’s potency, its use has been limited by two critical issues. As the drug moves through the blood stream seeking out cancer cells, it can damage or kill healthy cells along the way. The damage causes chemotherapy side effects such as hair loss, nausea and weakness. Even after it reaches the cancer cell, platinum is less than 100 percent effective, and cells that survive become resistant to future treatment.
Laurence discovered a three-amino acid sequence that shows promise for addressing both of these issues when placed in line with a targeting protein. Her sequence binds to platinum and prevents it from releasing its toxins until it reaches the cancerous cells.
“The more precise targeting would provide a more elegant solution to killing cancer,” Laurence said.
The Coulter Foundation award will fund Laurence’s work for the next two years, but it was funding from KU that provided the opportunity for the researcher’s promising discovery about five years ago. Laurence, who helped establish and is affiliated with KU’s Bioengineering Graduate Program, said this project is yet another example of KU’s commitment to interdisciplinary research.
“The pioneering funds for the imaging portion of the project came from the Higuchi Biosciences Center, and funds to test the therapeutic use of platinum came from the KU Cancer Center,” Laurence said. “This is a great example of KU investing in its researchers.”
KU School of Pharmacy Dean Ken Audus said those investments pay dividends locally, nationally and internationally.
“KU is fortunate to have researchers such as Jennifer Laurence who are finding solutions to our most urgent healthcare issues,” he said. “The work they do and the discoveries they make improve the lives of people in Kansas, the United States and the world. It’s because of groundbreaking research like this that the KU School of Pharmacy continues to attract and retain the world’s top pharmaceutical scholars.”
Parvesh Kumar, associate director of clinical research at the University of Kansas Cancer Center, will join Laurence on the project. Kumar, who specializes in head and neck therapies, will serve as clinical collaborator and will work to translate Laurence’s findings into clinical use.
Laurence will also receive assistance from former KU student Mary Krause, PhD, whose work will be funded by a prestigious PhRMA Foundation post-doctoral fellowship.
Laurence is one of two KU researchers to be announced today as Coulter Foundation Award recipients. Michael Detamore, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, received a two-year, $180,000 Coulter Foundation Award for Translational Research to expand his research on cartilage regeneration.