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USciences Faculty Awarded Grant from National Cancer Institute

By Jenna Pizzi

Published on January 17, 2022

Bin Chen, PhD, director of the graduate program in Pharmacology/Toxicology and professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, was awarded an R15 grant application from the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute to support the furtherance of his research. Dr. Chen’s research focuses on the use of photoactive drugs and therapies to detect tumors. 

“This award will let us continue our research on optimizing the use of photoactive drugs as tumor diagnostic and therapeutic agents,” said Dr. Chen. “Our ultimate goal is to work with clinicians to bring our research from bench to the bedside.”

During this funding period, Dr. Chen’s major focus is to identify important mechanisms such as drug transporters and enzymes in tumor cells that reduce tumor fluorescence, develop mechanism-based therapeutic enhancement strategies, and evaluate therapeutic outcomes of new therapeutic approaches, he said. The total funding will be $427,500

Photoactive drugs can be preferentially accumulated in tumor tissues through passive diffusion or bind to tumor-specific markers. Following light activation, photoactive drugs in tumor tissues emit fluorescence, which lights up the tumors and allows surgeons to see them better. This fluorescence-guided tumor resection is emerging as a new tool for improving the precision of oncological surgery, said Dr. Chen.   

“Some photoactive drugs have been approved by the FDA for cancer treatment,” said Dr. Chen. “With these exciting uses of photoactive agents in the clinic, some fundamental questions, such as why tumor cells show higher fluorescence than normal cells and how tumor cells handle these fluorescent drugs we throw at them, are still puzzles waiting to be solved. Answers to these fundamental questions may result in new therapeutic strategies for the enhancement of photoactive drugs.”

Dr. Chen hopes both undergraduate and graduate students will have an opportunity to be involved in innovative research and understand the process from funding to publication. 

“Engaging students in these activities will not only let them ‘see’ how their work may make tumor cells glow brighter, but also light up their career path as future pharmacologists,” he said.

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