Alexei Tulin, professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS), has received a three-year award of $900,000 for a project titled “Novel Targeted Therapeutics for Castration-Resistant Prostate Cancer.” The grant was awarded by the U.S. Army through its U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity (USAMRAA) program.
According to Dr. Tulin, several types of prostate cancer recur and/or become resistant to treatment even after surgical removal of the prostate. In such cases, which occur in other cancers as well, different chemotherapy regimens can be offered to patients in an attempt to kill or inhibit the remaining malignant cells. Unfortunately, many of these chemotherapies are not specific to the cancerous cells and thus can impair a wide range of body cells, which can adversely affect the cancer patient’s quality of life.
Throughout their study of the Poly-ADP-Ribose-Polymerase (PARP) family of proteins, however, Dr. Tulin and his team have uncovered a new pharmacological mechanism that targets cancerous prostate cells in a highly specific manner, without affecting other cells. Employing this mechanism for clinical treatments could provide patients with a less toxic, yet highly effective, drug regimen for eliminating prostate cancer cells.
“We’re researching the development of a drug that works through an epigenetic mechanism and would target only the tumor cells and not affect normal cells,” explained Dr. Tulin. “When we were searching for molecules that could inhibit the activity of PARP protein, we discovered a large collection of previously unknown inhibitors that either kill cancer cells entirely or reverse the cells’ tumorigenic activity—that is, they stop being cancerous cells.”
Dr. Tulin conducts research in a field known as epigenetics. Researchers studying epigenetics explore the mechanisms that regulate gene expression and the activation and deactivation of specific genes. Understanding better how the human body can turn genes on and off during growth and aging and in response to its environment has important implications for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, and diabetes.
Although still in the developmental phase, Dr. Tulin’s project is one of many projects ongoing at the UND SMHS that fall under the category of clinical and translational research: research that “translates” discoveries made at the laboratory bench for clinical implementation to directly benefit patients. The SMHS has made clinical and translational research a priority in recent years, a fact that bodes well for the citizens of North Dakota who will benefit from the increasingly rapid application of discoveries made in the laboratory to the treatment of their ailments.