Dr. Aleem Gangjee and his team at Duquesne University have received a $2.8 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue studying cancer-fighting compounds that target specific cancer cells and leave normal cells alone. The distinguished professor of medicinal chemistry at Duquesne created the drug to target a specific transport system that 20 to 30 percent of all cancer cells feature. Gangjee’s compounds carry drugs inside the tumor using the specific PCFT transporters. The drugs then cut off the DNA-synthesis machinery, killing the cell. Because the compounds use the specific transporter that is unique to cancer cells, healthy normal cells are unharmed. Gangjee says his compound acts as a sort of Trojan Horse. “The tumor cell doesn’t suspect that it’s taking up a fraudulent vitamin if you will, and once it gets inside the tumor cell is just blocks up the entire DNA-synthetic machinery,” he says. Gangjee’s drugs work on about a quarter of all cancers but works extremely well on some specific types of cancer cells. “There is some percentage in the 20 or 30 percent of tumors that do indeed express [the transport system]. The most prevalent kind that express this are ovarian cancer cells. Almost 90 to 95 percent of all ovarian cancer cells over-express this transport system,” he says. So far, there have been no side effects from the lab trials on mice. Gangjee hopes that the years of research following the discovery of this transport system in 2006 will lead to a clinical human trial by the time the grant runs up. “We’re sufficiently along in our preliminary studies that we are hoping at the end of this five years we should have a candidate hopefully ready for clinical trials,” he says.