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Posted September 12, 2013
William Gmeiner, Ph.D., and Jamie Jennings-Gee, Ph.D., Wake Forest University Health Sciences

Drs. William Gmeiner and Jamie Jennings-Gee The ideal treatment for prostate cancer is specific targeting of the cancer cells while leaving the normal cells of the prostate unharmed. Dr. William Gmeiner's research team at Wake Forest University Health Sciences has been focused on just that: designing new drugs and novel drug delivery strategies that will specifically target prostate cancer cells and therefore minimize toxic effects to non-cancerous cells. With the support of a FY09 PCRP Idea Development Award, they have been able to develop a new combinatorial therapeutic strategy to improve the treatment of prostate cancer by taking advantage of a distinguishing cancer cell characteristic - low intracellular zinc levels.

In order to specifically deliver chemotherapeutic agents to cancer cells, Dr. Gmeiner's team first tested the utility of DNA as a drug delivery vehicle. Special, highly structured DNA molecules were designed and shown to be capable of delivering toxic drugs to prostate cancer cells. The next step was to apply this DNA delivery system to the delivery of other agents that would specifically target the cancer cells, leaving the normal prostate cells unharmed. Since prostate cancer cells have lower zinc levels than normal prostate cells, combining zinc compounds with the DNA delivery vehicle resulted in specific delivery of the compound to the prostate cancer cells, and subsequently increased the cancer cells' sensitivity to chemotherapy.

Dr. Gmeiner is now working on combining this DNA-zinc targeted therapy with another agent developed by his lab, a unique polypyrimidine agent called F10. In contrast to conventional chemotherapy, which can have seriously debilitating effects on patients' quality of life, the results to date of cell treatment with F10 indicate that this compound causes minimal systemic toxicity. By combining this less toxic chemotherapeutic agent with the delivery potential of the DNA vehicle with the cancer cell targeted zinc compound, Dr. Gmeiner's research will result in a new treatment approach that more cleanly separates the anti-cancer activity of these drugs while minimizing the systemic side-effects of other traditional approaches.

Figure from Dr. William, Gmeiner

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