The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently awarded two Yale Professors of Chemistry, Alanna Schepartz and Andy Phillips, a $2.5 million research grant to investigate unique ways to inhibit protein targets that are currently considered “undruggable” and are responsible for the malignancy of certain cancers. Such protein targets could include transcription factors, protein-protein interactions and kinases. This highly competitive grant was won through the NCI’s Provocative Questions program, which challenges scientists to work on crucial problems that are often neglected.
Schepartz and Phillips, along with chemist Dylan Taatjes of the University of Colorado, have selected a project that attempts to correct dysfunctional regulation of the crucial tumor suppressor p53. Commonly called the guardian of the genome, p53 is the transcription factor that prevents cells from becoming oncogenic. Schepartz and Phillips want to apply new techniques in chemical biology to develop novel molecules that can gain entry to the cell and properly regulate the expression of genes affiliated with p53 to prevent cells from becoming malignant, which has been and continues to be a major goal of this field.
Many scientists regard modern cancer research as highly empirical, yet dependent on trial and error. Scientists often combine various drugs and chemotherapeutic agents at several different molar concentrations to test if their concoction induces apoptosis, or programmed cell death, to malignant cells. The research Schepartz and Phillips plan to carry out is a hypothesis-driven approach based on the belief that the best cure for cancer is prevention.