A cure for cancer has always appeared as something too advanced for science and technology to cultivate in this lifetime, something that loomed too far into the future. However, for pharmacy students at The University of Findlay, they’re right in the middle of accomplishing mission impossible.
Students in the pharmacy program at UF have been working on a compound that could potentially target and kill glioblastoma cancer cells.
Glioblastoma is a type of cancer most commonly found in the cerebrum, the largest part of the brain. Since these star-shaped cells create their own blood supply, they grow with ease and are difficult to remove surgically. According to the American Brain Tumor Association, the median length of survival for adults with this condition is 11-15 months.
Laura Calland, English teacher at Orange has been through this very fight with her own father, who was diagnosed with Glioblastoma in June 2013 and battled for over two years. This new drug could bring more than just treatment to a patient. “Not only is cancer a physically defeating experience, but it is psychologically hard. Being able to offer a patient and their family a chance for hope can do a lot to offer strength and comfort,” Calland said.
The main benefit of this new compound is that it has the ability to attack only the harmful glioblastoma cells, while maintaining the status of healthy cells, something doctors and chemists alike have struggled with in the past. Dr. Rahul Khupse, a medicinal chemist currently working with the university, said, “selectivity is the holy grail of cancer therapy because we know that chemotherapy has a lot of side effects.”
Essentially, if scientists can target specific cell types to destroy, the treatment process can be done without the nasty, debilitating effects of current treatments, like chemotherapy. Pharmacy student at Ohio Northern University and 2018 graduate, Dylan Mcwilliams said, “Cancer is a horrible illness and nobody deserves to suffer through it, so I hope they use this research and learn what went well for use in a larger audience.”
While new technology and methods for treating cancers are emerging, glioblastomas are smart tumors. Their intricate details, compared to fingers or tentacles by some, make it difficult to remove the, likely fatal, growth through surgery and the side effects of chemotherapy are far less than ideal. According to the National Cancer Institute, “even if a
surgeon is able to remove all visible signs of the tumor, these treatments only slow tumor growth and rarely cure the cancer because of microscopic tumor that remains after surgery.”
Students at UF have fondly nicknamed this compound RK-15, and their studies have shown that this specific strand is 100 times more effective in targeting cancer cells, again keeping non-cancerous material left unscathed. When looking at the quality of life after treatment, it is a huge leap to be able to preserve as many healthy brain cells as possible. This could allow patients to remain more themselves, despite everything their own personal journey brings.
Currently on their second year of this project, the team at UF is only starting the journey to possibly saving lives. Most drugs take anywhere from 10 to 15 years to reach patients, of course starting in a lab. With continued research and success, animal and clinical trials will be future steps, before possibly getting approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
So, what will this tiny bottle of a seemingly magic potion bring on in the next decade or two? No one knows for sure, but the future of a glioblastoma-curing drug is in the hands of intelligent, dedicated scientists, striving to be a part of the team that makes medical history.
Illustration by Brooke Farren