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Reducing side effects from medicines (1)

Liane Topham-Kindley Thursday 04 May 2017, 12:02PM
Reducing side effects from medicines (1)Chair in pharmaceutical sciences, Sarah Hook, and senior lecturer Allan Gamble have received research funding to modify cancer drugs so they have fewer side effects

Turning weapons of mass destruction into precision-guided munitions sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but it's all in a day's work for Sarah Hook and Allan Gamble. 

The pair recently received $34,960 from the Lottery Grants Board to trial modifying cancer drugs so they have fewer side effects. 

Their research project is titled: Turning weapons of mass destruction into precision-guided munitions. 

Professor Hook, the University of Otago's chair in pharmaceutical sciences says she and Dr Gamble, a senior lecturer at the school, hope to achieve this by turning current cancer drugs into inactive and non-toxic prodrugs, which are only activated once they reach a tumour.     

There are a number of drugs for treating cancer that have been around for a long time, and are good at killing cancer cells, Professor Hook says. But they also kill other cells, which results in unpleasant side effects such as nausea, hair loss and gastric problems. 

Ideally, the research will result in cancer-fighting drugs with fewer side-effects, which will enable higher drug concentrations to be tolerated.  This will increase the drugs' ­efficacy, while making them more tolerable for patients.                                

The researchers are synthesising a number of novel chemotherapy prodrugs and tumour-responsive nanoparticles and now need to investigate the potential for these therapies to kill tumour cells in a laboratory setting in-vivo.  

Two PhD students, Arnold Lee and Sumit Dadhwal have been doing a lot of work in this area, together with Dr Gamble and Professor Hook, developing formulations to get through to this stage. 

"We've got some really nice formulations there, and it's going to be great to get into the preclinical lab setting," Professor Hook says.       

Currently, there are no prodrugs commercially available that activate only at the tumour site.   

Nationally, about $3.5 million was distributed in the recent Lottery Health Research funding round.  University of Otago researchers gained more than $2.6 million of that funding to support studies aimed at improving the health status of
New Zealanders. LTK



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