A Temple professor was recently awarded a $200,000 grant for his cancer research.
Dr. George Tuszynski, a neuroscience professor, said he hopes to use a new protein-based therapy for the leukemia subtype, acute myeloid leukemia, to revert cancerous cells to normal cells.
According to a Jan. 19 article in the Philadelphia Business Journal, the University City Science Center awarded a $200,000 grant for research and development funding to Philadelphia researchers, including Tuszynski.
The grant, to area researchers from Temple, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, includes $100,000 from the Science Center and $100,000 from the supporting institution.
“Basically, we’re interested in developing experimental therapeutics that will treat cancer, and we’ve been doing this for a number of years now,” Tuszynski said.
“Our treatment will revolutionize the way we treat AML,” he added.
Tuszynski said the elderly can’t tolerate chemotherapy or bone marrow transplants. AML is a disease more common among the elderly, and, when it strikes, it is usually a death sentence.
“This kind of therapy could be a godsend for leukemia, because it would be nontoxic,” he added.
Tuszynski said what separates his research is the belief that instead of eradicating the cancer cells, or the genetic cause of leukemia, the goal is to find a way for the cancer cells to behave normally.
“We’re just saying you can live with the cancer because those cells become normal cells once they are differentiated. The trick is to find something in the body that will cause them to differentiate,” Tuszynski said. “Getting rid of the cancer cells by killing them will probably not be realistic because you’re killing all your normal cells too, but by [getting]the cancer cells to behave normally [people can live with it.]”
Tuszynski said most cancer research is performed on cell lines, which can change or differ once they are cultured, so they might not represent the actual cancer in the patient.
“We’ve been testing all this on cell lines in laboratories, and now we have the funds and the ability to test actual primary cancer cells, taken from the patient, so we’re going to be testing our therapy on primary cells, not cell lines,” Tuszynski said.
“The unique thing here is that we’re going to be testing our drug on primary cells, we’re also going to be testing to see how [the cells behave] once they’re differentiated, if they develop tumors in a mouse model … [with the Science Center’s help] we’ll have the resources to really test this idea,” Tuszynski added.
If Tuszynski’s research produces positive results on the primary cells, the next step would be clinical trials.
“It’s really an exciting project, and if it pans out it could really be tremendous for the patient. I’m really excited about this,” Tuszynski said, predicting that within the next year they will know if this therapy works. “It’s very focused; we know exactly what we want to do [and] we have the patient material.”
Tuszynski said he appreciates Temple’s support for the project.
“I’m very thankful to Temple for supporting us, for giving us this opportunity and for helping us to move this thing forward,” he said. “And together with Temple and the Science Center I think we can do it.”
In addition to the grant money, the Science Center is providing Tuszynski and the other grant recipients with business advisers to bring their ideas to the market. Tuszynski said clinical trials can cost more than $1 million, and business advisers will help raise funds.
“Together with Temple and the Science Center, I think that’s the perfect way of moving technology forward. I think that’ll be the trend in the future for people who make discoveries in the laboratory, who know something works on cell lines or know it works on certain animal models, this is kind of how to move it to the next step,” Tuszynski said.
“Because that next step is a pretty expensive step,” Tuszynski added. “You need all the preclinical data you can get to convince people to put a million dollars into your project.”
Valerie Rubinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.