Emory-led research group awarded NCI grant for developing novel anti-cancer drugs

October 24, 2000

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has awarded a $3.8 million grant to establish a National Cooperative Drug Discovery Group (NCDDG) at Emory University in conjunction with the University of Georgia and Wayne State University. The group will develop new anti-cancer drugs based on sphingolipids, a category of compounds that recently have been discovered to restore many cell behaviors that are out of control in cancer.

Alfred H. Merrill, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry at Emory University School of Medicine, is principal investigator for this special program of the NCI to bridge basic science discoveries and the development of new anti-cancer drugs.

Over the past decade, Dr. Merrill's lab has made a number of significant discoveries about the functions of sphingolipids and how these relate to cancer. Sphingolipids are used by cells to control growth, cell-to-cell communication, immune recognition and other processes that often are defective in cancer. They have shown that giving sphingolipids to tumor cells in culture makes them behave more normally, and that feeding sphingolipids to mice also can block the appearance of tumors caused by hereditary defects or exposure to chemical carcinogens.

"Sphingolipids have shown great promise in controlling some types of cancer," Dr. Merrill points out. "This new grant will focus our efforts on the next stage of research--to use what we have learned with naturally occurring sphingolipids to develop more effective compounds for the prevention and treatment of cancer."

The NCI's cooperative drug discovery grants support "broad, multidisciplinary, multi-project approaches to the discovery of new, rationally based or natural-source derived anticancer treatments or strategies." The Emory-UGA-Wayne State group combines faculty from several basic science and clinical disciplines, including chemistry, biochemistry, pathology and urology. It also involves collaborations with scientists at the NCI and industry.
Media Contacts:
Holly Korschun, 404/727-3990 -- hkorsch@emory.edu
Sarah Goodwin, 404/727-3366 -- sgoodwi@emory.edu
Kathi Ovnic, 404/727-9371 -- covnic@emory.edu

Emory University Health Sciences Center

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