Jennifer Laurence, associate professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy and members of the COBRE in Protein Structure and Function Center, has earned a Coulter Foundation Transitional Research Award. The award will support her innovative research into methods for improving the delivery of cancer treatments within the body.
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.
In the ongoing fight against cancer, the most pressing problem isn’t how to kill diseased cells. Today’s challenge is finding a way to kill cancer cells without damaging healthy tissue. 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.