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Pelkey Mowery Students DU

Bio-Chem Collaboration on Anti-Cancer Research

In a recent article in the journal Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters, two HWS faculty members, four alums and four students coauthored a study on the interrelated biological and chemical functions in a compound with potentially groundbreaking anti-cancer properties.

Research for the article, “Synthesis and evaluation of the anti-proliferative activity of diaryl-3-pyrrolin-2-ones and fused analogs,” was conducted by Associate Professor of Biology Patricia Mowery and Professor of Chemistry Erin Pelkey, along with Courtney Franceschi ’16, Maeve Kean ’15, Deborah Kwansare ’16, Megan Lafferty ’18, Fernando Banales Mejia ’17, Namita Neerukonda ’17, Carly Rolph ’15 and Nathanyal Truax ’17.

The analogs referenced in the article’s title, Pelkey says, “are compounds that we make in the chemistry lab with a wide range of applications, but what we’re most interested in are the anti-cancer functions.”

The analogs mimic compounds produced naturally by bacteria that have been found to “interrupt processes” of cancer cells, Mowery explains.

These analogs, “which are simplified versions of a more complex compound that has potent biological activity,” Pelkey says, help researchers understand “the basic structure and what parts are responsible for that activity.”

After making the analogs in the lab, “students treat cancer cells or tissue culture cells with the compound and see how much of it is needed to kill the cancer cells,” Mowery says.

This work is a first step, she says, in outlining some “crude rules as to how to induce cell death. Now, we have two groups of compounds and can refine them further to understand the rules better — how compounds are inducing cell death, what they’re targeting. It will lead to lots of questions, which will allow us to start digging in and refining even further. Which is the nature of science.”

This research, which began in 2014, was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation and the HWS Office of the Provost.

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