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UTHSC and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to Collaborate On Cancer Drug Discovery and Development Research

Dr. Gabor Tigyi

Researchers at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) and the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) will conduct collaborative research with the goal of developing better cancer treatments.

Cancer stem cells are inherently resistant to radiation and chemotherapy and are responsible for the majority of cancer relapse cases. The team’s objective is to identify molecular markers as therapy resistance develops in cancer stem cells. These markers will inform targeted delivery methods for new radionuclides in development at ORNL and chemotherapeutic drugs in development at UTHSC.

The joint project will be led by Gabor Tigyi, MD, PhD, Harriet Van Vleet Endowment Professor and Harriet Van Vleet Chair in Oncology Research at UTHSC, with Sue Chin Lee, PhD, assistant professor of Physiology in the UTHSC College of Medicine; and Sandra Davern, radioisotope researcher, Nuclear and Radiochemistry Group at ORNL.

Dr. Sue Chin Lee

Integrating capabilities across multidisciplinary and multi-institutional teams will allow the investigators to develop unique dual carriers of radionuclides and chemotherapeutics to hit cancer at its core.

ORNL has leading experts and facilities—including the High Flux Isotope Reactor and Radiochemical Engineering Development Center—that are used to produce medical isotopes not made anywhere else in the world.“The driving force behind this research is to move closer to new, effective treatments for cancer patients that also minimize side effects and chances for recurrence,” Davern said. “This is a great step in that direction.”

Steven Goodman, PhD, vice chancellor for Research at UTHSC, and Marti Head, PhD, director of the Joint Institute of Biological Sciences at ORNL, intend the project to be the first of several collaborations between ORNL and UTHSC focused on drug discovery and development.

Sandra Davern

“It has been a pleasure working to create collaborations that are of interest to researchers at UTHSC and ORNL and important to the health of Tennesseans and the nation,”  Dr. Goodman said. “Our plan is to seed these studies that will lead to valuable new research findings, providing opportunities to garner extramural support, which in turn, will lead to even larger collaborations in the future.”

“It is exciting that ORNL and UTHSC are aligning their independent research interests to increase understanding of disease and radiotherapy,” Dr. Head said. “This collaboration aims to generate new knowledge and advance technological capabilities that can positively impact patient care.”

Radioisotope production activities for medical applications at ORNL’s High Flux Isotope Reactor and Radiochemical Engineering Development Center are supported by the U. S. Department of Energy Isotope Program, managed by the Office of Science for Nuclear Physics.