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Research / Discovery

Chemistry professor awarded $330,150 grant to study new, safer methods of drug delivery

April 28, 2010

A Colorado State University researcher has received a $330,150 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to identify novel molecules that deliver drugs to prostate cancer cells, but not healthy cells. Molecules with this unique ability are well suited to decrease side effects associated with many drugs and increase the therapeutic impact of existing and future drugs.

Postdoctoral Associate Uptal Mohan, Assistant Professor Brian McNaughton, and graduate student Sandra DePorter.

Prostate cancer warriors

In March, Brian R. McNaughton, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, was named one of 28 recipients nationally of the 2009 Prostate Cancer Research Program New Investigator Award.

McNaughton is the only researcher from a Colorado higher education institution to receive this prestigious award.

Surface of cells diverse

McNaughton said the best way to describe the surface of a human cell is to picture different varieties of shag carpet.

“My lab is trying to identify molecules that selectively recognize the differences between the ‘shag carpet’ coating of a prostate cancer cell and a healthy cell,” McNaughton said.

Ways to avoid toxicity, negative side effects

A clump of prostate cancer cells. The bluey-green cells are actively growing, whereas the pink ones are in the process of dying by programmed cell death (apoptosis). Colour-enhanced scanning electron micrograph by Dave McCarthy and Annie Cavanagh.

“In a perfect situation, a molecule would chaperone any anti-cancer drug specifically to a prostate cancer cell and not healthy cells in the body. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of current methods to deliver drugs to cells, such as prostate cancer cells, is not selective.

This means that drugs meant to impact prostate cancer cells impact healthy cells as well. This often leads to negative side effects that limit the dosage and therapeutic course of drugs. A significant percentage of potential drugs are removed from FDA trials because of toxicity associated with unwanted delivery to healthy cells.”

Experiments to ID key molecules

Sandra DePorter, a first-year graduate student, and Utpal Mohan, a postdoctoral associate in the McNaughton lab, program millions of E. coli to synthesize and display a molecule on their surfaces, each E. coli displaying a different molecule. The researchers then perform a series of experiments called “directed evolution” to identify which molecule is most capable of targeting a drug selectively to a prostate cancer cell.

“We essentially outsource E. coli to synthesize a very large number of molecules for us, then we use the fundamental principle of Darwinian evolution to identify which molecule works best,” McNaughton said.

Contact: Emily Wilmsen
Phone: (970) 491-2336