USA Health collaborates on grant to potentially treat aggressive cancers
Gary Piazza, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology at the USA College of Medicine and co-lead investigator, discovered and developed a novel RAS inhibitor class.
By Brittany Otis
A researcher at USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute and the Department of Pharmacology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine is part of a collaboration to explore a potential treatment for aggressive cancers.
Gary Piazza, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology at the USA College of Medicine and co-lead investigator, discovered and developed a novel RAS inhibitor class. RAS inhibitors may help treat aggressive cancers that are RAS-driven such as pancreatic, colon and lung cancers.
RAS is a protein sending signals to a chain of proteins that converge on the nucleus to alter gene transcription. Mutations of RAS oncogenes signal cancer cells to grow and spread throughout the body. Oncogenes, or cancer-causing genes such as RAS, can transform a cell into a tumor cell, in certain circumstances.
RAS inhibitors have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but represent a potential new treatment for aggressive cancers, Piazza said. RAS inhibitors are in clinical trials, but would be limited to patients diagnosed with a specific type of RAS mutation.
Piazza hopes his discovery of a novel class of a RAS inhibitor could prove to be effective for a broader group of patients diagnosed with any type of RAS mutation.
“To receive this grant is an important step forward to accelerate our research so that we can develop more effective and safer therapeutics for patients with aggressive cancers,” Piazza said.
Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA), or pancreatic cancer, is among the deadliest cancers with a 10 percent, five-year survival rate and is often diagnosed in advanced stages. Mutated forms of RAS genes occur in more than 90 percent of patients with PDA.
Piazza spearheads the project with a University of Alabama at Birmingham researcher, Donald Buchsbaum, Ph.D. They plan to continue their research by preparing cancer cells, derived from patients with pancreatic cancer, to evaluate the anticancer activity of their novel RAS inhibitor class.
The grant is part of the Richard A. Elkus, M.D. Eminent Scholars Fund in Gastrointestinal Oncology at UAB. It promotes innovative research and scientific understanding of gastrointestinal cancers, especially pancreatic cancer. The ultimate goal of the fund is to create new therapeutics for thousands of Americans suffering with gastrointestinal cancers.