Summary: Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the US leading to the fatality of over 600,000 patients this year alone. While there are many cancer therapies available, most tumors eventually develop resistance to these drugs and evolve into a more aggressive and lethal form of the disease. In our lab, we are working on bettering out understanding of how cancer cells develop resistance to current chemotherapeutics and developing new therapies to prevent chemoresistance. We have discovered that many chemoresistant cancers have increased interaction with peripheral neurons while also exhibiting neuromimicry, which is where cancer cells start to look and signal like neurons themselves. We have discovered that there is enhanced signaling of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in chemoresistant non-small cell lung cancer. Utilizing this knowledge, we have developed a novel cancer therapy that uses a drug that blocks acetylcholine signaling and effectively resensitizes cancer cells to induce cell death. What makes this finding even more exciting is that this new therapy uses a repurposed drug already used in the clinic to treat overactive bladder, which will make the transition to clinical trials and eventual use in patients much more likely. Our lab is working on optimizing this new therapy, along with extending our studies on repurposing existing drugs used in other areas of the clinic as cancer therapies.

Minimum classes: N/A

Projects: Repurposing existing drugs as therapies for lethal chemoresistant cancers. Our lab utilizes many cell and molecular techniques that are used in cancer research throughout academia and industry. Undergraduate students are exposed to many of these techniques and not only learn to perform them efficiently, but also learn the basic science behind each. Some of these techniques include measuring gene expression (qPCR), measuring protein expression and activity levels (Western blot), culture of cancer cells extracted from human tumors (cell culture), genetic manipulation of cancer cells (CRISPR/Cas9, siRNA), examining the ability of drugs to kill cancer cells (cell survival assay), and creation of new DNA (cloning). Students will leverage these techniques to enhance our novel therapy along with discovering new biomarkers that can be used for further drug repurposing studies. They will also have the opportunity to perform animal experiments such as tumor growth monitoring and drug dosing in rodent models. Students who have a strong work ethic, are detail oriented, have a fascination with science and medicine, and want to perform research that has a strong translational potential as a critical therapy in cancer patients are strongly encourage to apply.

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