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Better Chemotherapy Treatments

Chemistry professors' research aims to improve drugs that are effective at treating cancer but leave patients dealing with terrible side effects.

Research  |  Apr 15, 2014  |  By Shane Bevell

UNLV professor Bryan Spangelo is working to improve chemotherapy treatments. (Aaron Mayes/UNLV Photo Services)

Chemistry professor Bryan Spangelo and his research collaborators are working to improve chemotherapy treatments for lung cancer patients.

Cisplatin is an FDA-approved chemotherapy drug. It belongs to a family of compounds that contain platinum and are often used to treat various cancers. It is effective as an anti-tumor agent, but can have toxic side effects.

Spangelo and his colleagues -- UNLV chemistry professor Pradip Bhowmik and graduate student Van Vo -- are trying to develop improved heavy metal drugs by placing the platinum atom into a novel complex containing two rings of carbon and nitrogen atoms. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has recently approved a patent for this research.

Tests they have conducted on a variety of cancers, including lung, breast, and prostate, have shown three compounds to be exceptionally more effective than cisplatin in some cases. Also, the research team found that the most potent of the platinum-containing compounds tested is not toxic in mice. Spangelo said this demonstrates the potential use of the compounds as chemotherapy drugs.

The Research Fund for Innovation and Development (RFID) project has allowed the team to collect the data needed to support grant proposals and to support publication in important science journals.

"Although we have examined these compounds in vitro using various human cancer cell lines, we have not tested the compounds to determine how they are toxic to in vivo cancer cells," Spangelo said, adding that the RFID funding helps purchase the materials needed for conducting important tests.

In future studies, the investigators will try to determine what cellular proteins are stimulated within the cancer cells by the platinum drugs.