By Wendy Sarubbi | October 15, 2012 2:20 pm

During National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, everyone from runners in the streets to NFL players on the field dons pink to support the fight against the disease that is expected to kill 39,510 women in the United States in 2012.

As heartening as those efforts are, there is another show of force going on in the lab of Dr. Annette Khaled at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. Dr. Khaled was recently awarded a $100,000 grant from the Florida Breast Cancer Foundation to study how a cancer cell’s metabolism — the biochemical processes such as growth and reproduction that keep it alive — can be disrupted without killing healthy cells.

The research takes a novel approach to design a drug around cytotoxic peptides — short chains of amino acids that are able to penetrate and damage individual cancer cells – delivered  through nanotechnology.

“No therapeutic peptides are being used in current cancer patient treatment regimes,” said Dr. Khaled.

In addition, Dr. Khaled  said this approach could also lead to a treatment without the devastating side effects of chemotherapy, such as fatigue, anemia and chemotherapy resistance caused when cancer cells mutate. And because each person’s breast cancer differs from the next person’s, understanding the mechanics of cancer cell metabolism could open doors to more effective treatments.

“This could eventually lead to a personalized treatment approach to beat cancer,” Dr. Khaled said.

Nanoparticles developed by key collaborator, Dr. J. Manuel Perez from UCF’s Nanoscience Center, are a key element in the study, said Dr. Rebecca Boohaker, a recent doctoral graduate from the Burnett School and member of the research team.

“They are like the Trojan horse,” she said. “They help the peptides get inside the cancer cells, then release the peptides. The nanoparticles help concentrate the peptides to destroy the tumors.”

Also joining Dr. Khaled on the project is Dr. Priya Vishnubhotla of the Orlando VA Medical Center.

The Orlando VAMC, in conjunction  with Dr. Michael Perez from the James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa, is providing human breast cancer tissues to be used in the project.

The grant will allow the gathering of preclinical data that may lead to later trials involving mice, Dr. Khaled said. Any human clinical trials are a few more years away.

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