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Southwestern, UT Researchers Studying New Technique to Evaluate Anti-Cancer Compounds

A Southwestern University chemistry professor is collaborating with researchers at UT-Austin to evaluate a new technique that could rapidly predict the anti-cancer activity of new compounds.

A Southwestern University chemistry professor is collaborating with researchers at UT-Austin to evaluate a new technique that could rapidly predict the anti-cancer activity of new compounds.

Lynn Guziec, assistant professor of chemistry at Southwestern, and Jennifer Brodbelt, professor of chemistry at UT, have received a four-year, $1,113,615 grant from the National Institutes of Health to fund the study.

Guziec and her husband, Frank Guziec, professor of chemistry at Southwestern, will prepare novel compounds called aziridine benzoquinones. These compounds are prodrugs, a type of drug that only becomes effective after it reacts with enzymes in the body, such as the enzymes produced in high levels by cancer cells. An aziridine benzoquinone called RH1 is now in clinical trials as a potential treatment for several types of childhood cancers that are often resistant to current types of chemotherapy, as well as for cancers of the lung, colon, breast and liver.

The Guziecs will make a series of variations of RH1 and send them to Brodbelt for evaluation. Brodbelt will use a new technique called electrospray ionization mass spectroscopy to evaluate how the compounds interact with DNA. The researchers hope that the electrospray ionization mass spectroscopy will provide a rapid technique to predict the anti-cancer activity of these and other new compounds.

Lynn Guziec has been investigating benzoquinones as anticancer agents for more than 15 years. The process involved in synthesizing the compounds involves many steps and is very technically demanding. It takes more than a month to make and purify each compound. For this project, she will use compounds she has made previously as well as a variety of new ones.

“The analytical results we get from UT will determine what we prepare next,” Guziec said.

In the past, the Guziecs have worked with researchers at the Manitoba Institute of Cell Biology to test benzoquinones on live cancer cell lines. If they obtain positive results on the compounds tested at UT, they will send them to their collaborators in Canada for further pharmalogical testing.

Suncerae Smith, a 2001 Southwestern chemistry graduate, will be involved in the project at UT. She is now working in Brodbelt’s lab while she pursues her Ph.D. in chemistry. Emily Niemeyer, chair of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department at Southwestern, has done sabbatical work in Brodbelt’s lab and helped set up the collaboration between the two labs. Kerry Bruns, professor of chemistry at Southwestern, also has done sabbatical research in Brodbelt’s lab.