The Researcher

Are we on the verge of new cancer treatment options?

In his State of the Union address in January 2016 President Barack Obama proclaimed "Let's make America the country that cures cancer".  Along with VP Joe Biden,  the call has gone out to provide the strongest support to the National Institutes of Health and cancer research in the last ten years. The biggest question of course is, will they find a cure and will it be accessible to the masses?

The Lehman a College science building

Luckily for the world, The City University of New York and my Alma mater Lehman College have heard the call and are taking up arms in the war against cancer.  Who knew within the walls of a public university in the northwest Bronx, that critical research is taking place?  Led by brilliant bio science professor Moira Sauane, a inquisitive team of budding researchers are working to discover a mechanism eradicating cancer cells.  Winner of a $1 million dollar research grant from the National Cancer Institute,  Professor Sauane is committed to creating a viable gene therapy for cancer, thus changing the future of how treatment is delivered.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Professor Sauane, who gave yours truly a brief bio lesson (on DNA) and a synopsis of what the future may hold for cancer therapy.   Professor Sauane spent many hours honing her skills for research as a undergraduate at Columbia University.  She reminisced, "It was very tough and you had to be pretty sure that you were focused and that your hypothesis had a good chance of working!"  When asked why she she chose the profession of cancer research, Professor Sauane broke it down simply:  "I really enjoy what I do."  I enjoy finding out how things work."  Professor Sauane reminded me that research does not happen instantaneously and that she has a healthy mental balance between success and failure. 

Regarding the future of cancer research, Professor Sauane discussed genotyping (the process of determining the specific genetic makeup of each individual, by examining a person's DNA sequence) and it's benefits. 

Genotyping in cancer patients, would be beneficial because, mutations in the genes would be revealed and therapy could be targeted to a patients specific mutation, making the cancer treatment personalized and much more beneficial.

The news of a future for personalized cancer therapy via genome sequencing, made me want to do handstands in the hallways!  To think thar we may have the chance to receive definitive and individual therapy, built around our DNA and mutations, instead of just centering around what type of cancer one has, seems very promising. 

Professor Sauane went on to break down what research her team is involved in.

We all have a DNA, a code book which contain genes.” “Normal cells express a particular cancer fighting protein.” “Abnormal cells do not express this protein.” When IL-24 (gene, encoded tumor suppressing protein) is inserted into a abnormal cell it begins the process of killing it, but at the same time the normal cells are not affected. We just have to figure out why that is.

 Professor Sauane explained that the research her team is conducting is still in a clinical trail phase.  She pointed out that it will take some time before gene therapy is approved is and rolled out to the market, as a viable treatment option   I personally have  high hopes that this will happen soon.  For now, I will have to keep an eye on Professor Sauane and her team, as they attempt to unlock the doors to the future of cancer treatment.