From left, Stefan Bossmann, university distinguished professor of chemistry; Chris Culbertson, professor of chemistry; and Bala Natarajan, professor of electrical and computer engineering, have received a $2 million National Science Foundation Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation grant. They will collaborate with researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch on new cancer treatments.

A group of Kansas State University researchers have received $2 million in funding from the National Science Foundation to conduct fundamental studies on new treatments for glioblastoma and other cancers.

It’s part of a collaboration with the University of Texas Medical Branch through NSF’s Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation program. Johnson Cancer Research Center interim director Dr. Keith Chapes says glioblastoma is the most common and most aggressive form of an adult primary brain tumor.

“in many cases, people are diagnosed and the cancer has progressed to the point where even with surgery and other therapies, they’re not curable. This is going to move the study of this particular cancer forward,” Chapes said.

Researchers are seeking to develop novel biophotonic methods to recognize genomewide epigenetic mutations associated with glioblastoma, which they hope will lead to early diagnosis and potentially develop treatments. Chapes says it’s possible the research could lead to treating other forms of cancer.

“Sometimes you have to substitute a different agent, but you have to find a monoclonal antibody in order to do a therapy, and discover the monoclonal antibody that’s unique for each particular cancer,” he said.

Chapes says this research is a multidisciplinary approach led by three K-State professors including distinguished chemistry professor Stefan Bossmann and co-principal investigators Christopher Culbertson from the College of Arts and Bala Natarajan from the Carl R. Ice College of Engineering.

Work on the project is motivated by the awareness that the interaction of tumors with their surroundings, together with metabolic factors, is responsible for altering gene expression patterns, which enable tumors to adapt and escape treatment. Chapes says also developing new avenues for treatment that will allow better quality of life is another goal.

“Obviously if you find diagnostics that allow for the earlier finding of a cancer in an individual, the easier it is to treat and the less harmful those treatments will be,” Chapes said.

Researchers plan to develop new microfluidic methods for mechanical and metabolic stimulation of cells and a new model to predict the forms of these stimuli that will trigger cell death.

The research extends beyond glioblastoma and is said will apply to virtually all diseases with epigenetic drivers including other cancers, neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases, obesity and metabolic syndrome.

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