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Cunningham Receives Grant to Study Precision-Based Cancer Therapy

A $200,000 Scholar Award from the V Foundation for Cancer Research will help support research by UC College of Medicine’s Tom Cunningham, PhD, in his search for new ways of developing targeted therapies to fight cancer.

Cunningham, a member of the Cincinnati Cancer Center and a faculty member brought on board as part of the university’s cluster hire initiative, and his team will be working to define the mechanistic basis for a specific vulnerability that they wish to harness for the selective killing of cancer cells. 

Cunningham says this precision-based approach could lead to the development of completely new ways to treat lymphoma and various other cancers with minimal side effects and better outcomes for patients.

"Nucleotides are the building blocks of our genetic material, which must be replicated every time a cell divides,” says the assistant professor of cancer biology. "Many chemotherapeutic drugs that interfere with nucleotide production and interrupt this process serve as a valuable weapon in an oncologist’s arsenal. However, the same properties that make these drugs so toxic to cancer cells also wreak havoc on normal proliferating cells and tissues. We hope to develop new approaches to interfere with nucleotide metabolism that retain their powerful anti-cancer efficacy but also do not harm normal tissues.”

Cunningham says his previous work has revealed one possible avenue to achieving selective killing of cancer cells. 

"We found that a built-in redundancy in the nucleotide production pathway normally provides a protective buffer to proliferating cells, but this protection is completely stripped away by the metabolic demands of cancer cells. This provides us a new window of opportunity which allows us to selectively kill cancer cells while sparing healthy cells and tissues,” he says. 

This work will be conducted using human cancer cells cultured in the lab as well as in animal models.

"In work supported by this award, we hope to unravel the molecular underpinnings for this cancer-specific selectivity through the use of unique genetic tools as well as metabolic flux analysis—used to examine production and consumption rates of metabolites (molecules) in a biological system—and cell-based assays to uncover the critical molecular features of this key node. 

"The results of these proposed studies will serve as the cornerstone for the development of the next generation of precision-based therapies capable of safely and selectively eliminating cancer cells.”