NIH Grant of $1.8M Awarded to Investigate Viral Gene Therapy for Ovarian Cancer

NIH Grant of $1.8M  Awarded to Investigate Viral Gene Therapy for Ovarian Cancer
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded an R01 grant to Junghae Suh, a Rice University researcher, to investigate the use of viral gene therapy to fight ovarian cancer (OC). Suh is a bioengineer in the field of gene therapy and a 2016 winner of the Outstanding New Investigator Award from the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy. The five-year grant is worth $1.8 million and will fund collaborative research between Suh's lab and Dr. Anil Sood, a University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center surgeon specialist and researcher in ovarian cancer. The team will work to otherwise-harmless adeno-associated viruses (AAVs) to identify extracellular enzymes that are over-expressed by ovarian tumors and deliver therapeutic genes to diseased cells. “Proteases are expressed in normal tissue remodeling, but if you cut open and look at tumor tissue, you find them in highly elevated levels. Proteases are enzymes that chew up proteins. In cancer, they help tumors grow, migrate and metastasize to other sites in the body,” Suh said in a press release. “We're going after them as a target biomarker to activate our viruses. “Our viruses are designed to be locked in the inactive state. They need to be opened by the proteases present at tumor sites. Once the viruses are unlocked, they become very sticky. They stick to the tumor cells and get internalized, which allows them to deliver toxic payloads to kill the cells.” In other words, the viruses can be changed to recognize over-expressed levels of proteases while ignoring their normal expression to protect healthy cells. She anticipates that AAVs can target both primary
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