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Possible New Cancer Treatment
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Possible New Cancer Treatment

June 29, 2010
Possible New Cancer Treatment Figure of an active 8 amino acid peptide, with solvent accessible surface shown. More about this Image An undergraduate team at Hamilton College has been working on research that may lead to new treatments for breast cancer. Guided by Winslow Professor of Chemistry George Shields, a national leader in computational chemistry, and visiting assistant professor of chemistry Karl Kirschner, students are studying the structure of peptides derived from alpha-fetoprotein, a naturally occurring protein known to inhibit breast cancer. Their work uses the new science center's supercomputers to perform highly accurate theoretical simulations that offer the promise of life-saving treatments for the one in 10 women nationwide who face breast cancer. One of these peptides is a family of compounds known as enediynes. Frank Pickard, a former student researcher, explains that enediynes "have drawn a large amount of interest as anti-tumor drugs because of their incredible ability to cleave DNA and kill cells." These compounds, however, indiscriminately kill both healthy and cancerous cells. Shields and his students have focused their research on exploring ways of modifying the compounds to be more selective toward killing cancerous cells. Hamilton graduate Kat Lexa worked with professor Shields for two summers. Her research became her senior thesis and she was the lead undergraduate student researcher on this project. Lexa returned to Hamilton during the summers of 2005 and 2006 to continue work on the project. She explains, "The biggest challenge with my research is that virtually nothing is known about the molecule I am studying--not its structure, not its receptor site, not where in the cellular system it is able to inhibit breast cancer." Shields guides the students in their research while encouraging them to work as independently as possible. Shields describes his summer research program as an apprenticeship--a way to teach students how to be scientists. According to recent Hamilton graduate Heather Michael, "professor Shields serves as a faithful and patient consultant, always offering encouragement and insight." [Work funded by the National Institutes of Health, the New York State Breast Cancer Research and Education fund, the Department of Defense's Breast Cancer program, and the National Science Foundation (grant CHE 04-57275 and grants CHE 01-16435 and CHE 05-21063, as part of the MERCURY high-performance computer consortium). Shield's work published in the May 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.] (Date of Image: March 2007)


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