FAMU Receives $1.3M NIH Grant To Support Innovative Cancer Treatment Research

News Release: FAMU
September 12, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) has received a $1,351,400 grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support groundbreaking research that is poised to uncover a more direct and effective method for treating lung cancer.

The lung cancer research supported by the four-year grant is also expected to provide insight and solutions for more effective treatments for cancers that often impact minority and underserved communities and are more difficult to detect. These include pancreatic, prostate and triple negative breast cancers.

Nazarius Saah Lamango, Ph.D., professor of medicinal chemistry in the FAMU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (COPPS) is the principal investigator on the research project, titled “Disrupting Polyisoprenylated Protein Function for Lung Cancer Therapy.”

Joining Dr. Lamango as researchers and co-investigators are Gebre-Egziabher Kiros, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics in the FAMU COPPS, and Offiong F. Ikpatt, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology at the University of Miami.

“In the past four or five years, our research here at FAMU has helped us to identify a protein – an enzyme – that is very important for controlling the way cells survive, divide and multiply,” Lamango said. “We have found that this esterase enzyme is too active in various cancer types. This grant will help us with the funding needed for personnel, equipment and supplies to take our research a step further towards the application of the knowledge we have gained about this protein – in regards to companion diagnoses and more effective cancer therapies.”

Lamango added, “We have also developed some small molecule compounds that we can use to inhibit the enzyme or disrupt the activities it metabolizes. It is our hope that this research will help doctors to be able to tell, using the companion diagnosis, which patients are likely to benefit from these potential new therapies.”

Assisting the professors are three, third-year graduate students in FAMU COPPS, who say they are humbled and honored to participate in lung cancer research that may contribute to not only saving the lives of those diagnosed with lung cancer, but also those affected by other complex cancers.

Student researcher Rosemary Poku, a native of Ghana and pharmacology/toxicology major, hopes to eventually make an impact on prostate cancer through her participation in the cancer research project.

“Being a person of African-descent, it is important for me to be able to contribute in any way I can toward preventing further casualties from cancers such as prostate cancer, which is among the leading causes of death among African -American men,” Poku said. “This research is allowing us to uncover more effective ways to save lives through more direct drug therapy.”

Olufisayo Salako, a pharmaceutics major from Alabama, echoed Poku’s sentiments. She hopes that her research will help lead to more effective cures for triple negative breast cancer.

“This research directly impacts our community. I don’t think people really know how difficult it is to find effective therapies for cancers,” Salako said. “This is the reason why such cancers as triple negative breast cancer are silent killers in minority communities. It is very important to me to be a part of this process, and to know that, as a student, I can play a small role in finding a more direct approach for curing some of today’s most complex diseases.”

For student researcher Augustine Nkembo, a native of Cameroon and a pharmaceutics major, participating in the research project is a dream come true. After hearing a cancer survivor’s testimony, Nkembo said he was determined to somehow ensure that he played a role in helping others to become cancer survivors instead of cancer victims. Nkembo’s research focus is pancreatic cancer.

“Pancreatic cancer has had no cure up to now. It has a K-RAS (Kirsten rat sarcoma viral oncogene homolog) protein, which has been very challenging to target for more than 30 years,” Nkembo said. “With the help of this grant, our lab can discover a way to affect this pathway, which can lead to the establishment of mechanisms that can inhibit these cancer cells from growing.”

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