$1.5 million cancer research grant awarded to SIU department, schools

Prof. Edward Navarre, SIUE Chemistry Department

SIU has landed a $1.5 million research grant, which could potentially lead to improved quality of life in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.

The National Institutes of Health awarded the SIUE Chemistry Department, SIUE School of Pharmacy, along with the SIU School of Medicine in Springfield the grant to research the effectiveness of transplatin to alleviate cisplatin-induced hearing loss.

Transplatin is a molecule that could potentially work alongside cisplatin, a drug that is currently used for chemotherapy. Cisplatin, potent against cancer, is also known to have negative side effects on cancer patients, such as hearing loss, peripheral neuropathy and kidney toxicity.

Transplatin, however, works  differently. Despite not having any known effect on cancer itself, the presence of the transplatin molecule could reduce side effects of chemotherapy by blocking transient receptor potential (TRP) channels. These TRP channels apparently mediate the hearing loss and possibly the nephrotoxicity components of cisplatin chemotherapy according to Dr. Vickram Ramkumar, the principal investigator of this grant and a professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the Springfield campus.

“By using drugs like transplatin, physicians would be able to increase the dose of cisplatin to increase killing of ‘resistant’ cancer cells and improve treatment outcomes,” said Ramkumar.

Ramkumar said the research project stemmed from findings in the overall study of the role of TRP channels in mediating hearing loss and nephrotoxicity following cisplatin chemotherapy.

“We were just using it as an inactive control drug for the cisplatin studies and did not anticipate it would develop into this big of a study,” Ramkumar said.

Other Springfield collaborators on the grant include Drs. Len Rybak, Debbie Mukherjea, Theresa Liberati and Steve Verhulst.

Chemistry professor Edward Navarre said, “This is a very happy occasion. Typically projects that study these (pharmacokinetics of organometallic) drugs require a skill set available only at the top tier medical schools in the country.  I am very pleased to be part of a collaboration that allows SIU to compete at this level.”

As part of the grant study, Navarre will measure blood samples from 100 rats that will have received, either by injection or orally, transplatin. Based on testing and analysis of how fast the drugs are taken in and excreted by the animals, also processed by SIUE School of Pharmacy faculty, Drs. Tim McPherson and Bill Kolling, will determine its effectiveness.

Ramkumar proposed and spear-headed the five-year study with preliminary data collected by Navarre, McPherson and Kolling.

“It’s all fallen into place, and it’s very good and fortunate that all these people knew each other to assist with the project,” Navarre said of the research to be completed in 2018.

Chemistry department chair, Michael Shaw, explained how the project touches him personally. His sister passed away from cancer recently and had been taking a drug similar to cisplatin.

“I’m very excited about the project, since it represents a way that SIUE can contribute to the fight against this terrible disease,” Shaw said.

In anticipating the progress the project would bring in cancer research, Navarre said, “This could be a major step forward.”


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