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WKU faculty members receive NIH grant to study anti-cancer drugs

Dr. Michael Smith, associate professor of Biology at WKU, and Dr. Kevin Williams, professor of Chemistry at WKU, have been awarded an Academic Research Enhancement Award (AREA) grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to discover new anti-cancer platinum compounds with reduced side effects.

Current platinum-based chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin, are highly ototoxic causing the destruction of inner ear sensory hair cells and hearing loss. The goal of this project is to find platinum (II) complex drugs that are toxic to cancer cells without causing hearing damage.

The Williams Lab will first synthesize a series of novel platinum compounds. Then, Dr. Dave Monroe, a post-doctoral researcher in the Smith Lab, will test each compound in six cancer cell lines for anti-cancer activity. The researchers will also test the cellular uptake and potential reactivity with DNA for each compound.

Next, compounds that kill cancer cells will be microinjected into zebrafish. The fish will then have their hearing tested using electrophysiological methods and their sensory inner ear hair cells will also be examined for damage. As the novel platinum compounds bind DNA differently than current platinum chemotherapy drugs, they could activate separate cellular pathways and may not cause auditory system side effects associated with other drugs.

The total amount of the award is $414,321. This grant will support at least three undergraduate research assistants, two graduate students, as well as a post-doctoral researcher in performing cutting-edge research, thus supporting the goal of WKU to engage students in significant research experiences. This is the first NIH funding that WKU has been awarded in several years.

The NIH R15 grant was effective July 1, 2015.

Contact: Michael Smith, (270) 745-2405

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