Englewood researcher receives national award: Fights cancer with vaccines and compounds found in nature

Fights cancer with vaccines and compounds found in nature

Chemist Samuel Danishefsky of Englewood, N.J., will be honored on March 28 by the world's largest scientific society for developing vaccines and new drugs to fight cancer. He will receive the Herbert C. Brown Award for Creative Research in Synthetic Methods from the American Chemical Society at its national meeting in San Francisco.

Danishefsky conducts his research at the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, where he is Kettering chair and director of the laboratory for bioorganic chemistry, as well as at Columbia University, where he is a professor of chemistry.

Anti-cancer vaccines stimulate the body's immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells. "We've identified components on the surfaces of cancer cells that are almost unique to cancer," Danishefsky explained. Vaccines mimic these components, training the immune system to see cancer cells as a threat.

Several vaccines developed by Danishefsky's research team are about to enter Phase II and III clinical trials. The team plans to test whether they help prostate- and breast-cancer patients live longer, as well as shrink their tumors.

Danishefsky and his group also fight cancer with laboratory versions of natural products, compounds that have evolved in other organisms as chemical defenses. In mice, for example, a group of bacterial chemicals called epothilones are more effective against cancer cells than Taxol(r). Their toxicity is now being tested in higher animals.

"Epothilones seem to have the same mechanism as Taxol(r)," said Danishefsky, "but they appear to be less vulnerable to the buildup of drug resistance. That's a problem with Taxol(r)."

Danishefsky enjoys "the sheer challenge" of his field, as well as its potential to benefit humanity. The skills it requires he learned as a boy, he said: "It was as I studied Talmud that I gained appreciation for abstract logic and rigor, for patience

Contact: Christina Curtin
American Chemical Society

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