May 29, 2008
Cancer researchers develop new, non-toxic agents to locate tumors
ATLANTA – For years, oncologists have searched for tumors within patients by injecting them with contrast agents to highlight cancerous cells, which are visible through magnetic resonance imaging. But heavy doses of those agents have been found to cause kidney damage, which limits their effectiveness, according to research by the pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck & Co.
Now, with a $1.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, the lab of Georgia State chemistry professor Jenny Yang has developed new contrast agents using natural calcium and proteins that are harmless and are more effective at detecting tumors.
“What’s unique about our lab’s approach is we use a new protein,” Yang said. “It shows us how the calcium interacts with proteins, and we can then understand the networks with the cells.”
Calcium is one of the most common elements in the body, and it affects both the growth and death of cells, Yang said. While calcium is widespread, individual molecules have been difficult to track. Using the new protein, Yang and her team of researchers have discovered a method not only to locate calcium molecules, but also to manipulate them to behave in specific ways.
The method was developed in partnership with researchers in the math and statistics and computer science departments, who helped Yang’s team develop algorithms to effectively predict the calcium-bonding properties of proteins.
In addition to the potential use in locating tumors, Yang’s calcium research could lead to new treatments for osteoporosis, cataracts and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as new methods of bioinformatics research.
“This is a very exciting stage for us,”
said Yang, who recently authored a paper on her calcium research in the
American Cancer Society’s journal. “We made the impossible