Yunfeng Zhao, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology, Toxicology & Neuroscience, has received a two-year National Cancer Institute grant for research that could ultimately lead to new cancer treatments. The grant is worth nearly $150,000.
Dr. Zhao’s lab will try to determine if suppressing a specific enzyme which has been shown to be active during the early stages of tumor formation could prevent or inhibit certain kinds of cancer. A secondary goal of the research is to see if cell damage from too much oxygen activates the enzyme, which is known as PKM2. Oxidative damage has been implicated in the cause of many diseases, including cancer.
The scientists will study the effects of a compound made from a natural Chinese herb on skin cancer cells in mice. The herb, which is used in traditional medicine for treatment of infections and fever, has the same molecular structure as a chemical known to inhibit the PKM2. If the compound works to suppress or slow tumor formation, scientists will be able to use their new knowledge about the mechanism of the enzyme to develop drugs that target it.