Asst. Prof. Onur Çizmecioğlu of the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics has been awarded a Newton Advanced Fellowship by the Royal Society (UK). This will enable him to pursue research in collaboration with his co-awardee, Prof. Pedro Cutillas of Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), for two years. Their proposed project involves identifying the targets of a particular group of protein kinases, an advance that could improve the efficacy of cancer treatments.
The Royal Society offers Newton International and Advanced Fellowships to provide early career or established international researchers with an opportunity to develop the research strengths and capabilities of their research group through training, collaboration and reciprocal visits with a partner in the UK.
Many laboratories around the globe are researching the role of protein catalysts – called kinases – of cell growth and division and have discovered how several of them work. PI3-kinases (PI3K) have been found to be crucial for a number of physiological functions and are “the usual suspects” in a variety of human cancers. However, clinical trials have revealed that targeting these kinases does not offer the anticipated clinical benefit, as tolerable doses of the drugs administered still give rise to undesired side effects, and cancer cells may evade those therapies by changing their signal transduction mechanisms.
In the proposed joint project, research teams led by Dr. Çizmecioğlu and Dr. Cutillas will endeavor to identify the protein targets of the PI3Ks in cancer and inactivate them instead. The investigators envision minimizing the toxic side effects associated with direct PI3K inhibition by uncovering and targeting the “accessories to the crime” specific for cancer cells. This will make it possible to design drugs that preferentially kill cancer cells while sparing normal cells, thus minimizing side effects and increasing the drugs’ therapeutic window.
The proposal also suggests that putative drug targets identified in the project could be further investigated in preclinical animal models in a sustained collaborative effort between the research partners.