Attacking Cancer

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Treating any kind of cancer can be a difficult task. Along with identifying the right drug or therapy for a particular cancer, the problem gets even more complicated when attempting to determine the proper mode of delivering the drug while also factoring in the patient’s biologic or genetic makeup, side effects and the potential success rate.

Tackling all the moving pieces can be a challenge, but it is one that investigators at Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy are taking on every day in their labs. From developing new drugs, to genetic testing, to dosing and delivery, and to mitigating chemotherapy side effects, faculty members are taking a holistic approach towards learning more about cancer and how it affects us.

“Most people might ascribe cancer research being conducted in a school or college of pharmacy as developing and testing new drugs, and this would be correct,” said Dr. Tim Moore, associate dean for research at the Harrison School of Pharmacy (HSOP). “However, our researchers are also engaged in multi-faceted work that includes testing new applications of currently available drugs to treat different types of cancers, developing new dosing regimens for chemotherapies, designing new ways to target cancer at the cellular and molecular level, identifying new genetic mutations responsible for cancer development, testing the effects of diets and nutritional supplements on affecting cancer drug effectiveness and looking for ways to minimalize side effects associated with cancer treatments.”

A relatively new tool in this work is the Center for Pharmacogenomics and Integrated Omics Initiative (AUPharmGx), headed up by Dr. Amit Mitra. The first of its kind in Alabama, the program combines the science of drugs and pharmacology with genomics, the study of genes and their functions. This type of specialized or personalized medicine allows experts to better understand variations within a person and whether a particular drug treatment could be effective.

“Modern cancer research must consider genetic–influenced molecular pathways that cause the disease,” said Moore. “The work of Dr. Mitra and his team will allow us to identify multiple genetic mutations for a wide number of different cancer types all the way down to determining a mutation in a single cell that might lead to cancer development. Knowing this will enable precision cancer drug discovery and development.”

That drug discovery and development covers a variety of areas, including solid tumors, melanoma, multiple myeloma, prostate and breast cancers. Faculty take on cancer by developing new molecular therapies or new drugs, while also searching for ways to repurpose existing molecular therapies.

HSOP faculty also work to develop drug delivery systems. In particular, investigators develop novel lipid nanoparticles as drug carriers and diagnostic agents for the treatment of cancers. Nanoparticles are developed with consideration of how a tumor’s microenvironment alters the distribution and rate-extent of drug release, allowing scientists to engineer formulations that provide optimal drug exposure.

“The concept of drug delivery systems for treating cancer goes beyond just traditional modes of thinking about how drugs are administered to the body, which typically include oral, intravenous, inhalational or transdermal routes,” said Moore.

Work on new drug therapies, delivery systems, testing and research are benefitted by on-campus relationships with the Auburn University Research Initiative in Cancer (AURIC), College of Veterinary Medicine and the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. Additionally, faculty members are actively engaged with collaborators at the University of Alabama at Birmingham College of Medicine.

“Better diagnosing, treating and ultimately curing cancers requires a multidisciplinary research approach,” said Moore. “Without bioengineering professionals, medical health professionals would not be able to advance effective chemotherapeutic delivery systems into clinical application.”

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.