July 20, 2018 | ° F

University gifted $10 million, makes groundbreaking advances in research

Rutgers has achieved several breakthroughs in cancer research this semester. A $10 million donation was made to the Rutgers University Foundation in early September to help fund cancer treatment. 

The Daily Targum reported that the money was designated for patients who did not respond to standard therapies and for further research into various forms of cancer.

Cancer is not one single disease, said Shridar Ganesan, a medical oncologist with the Cancer Institute of New Jersey. Redefining how cancer is classified is an important step to treating and curing it, he said.

Genetic sequencing as a method of classification is promising, he said. 

Jay Tischfield, CEO and scientific director of the Rutgers University Cell and DNA Repository, said the causes of cancer could be found by comparing the genomes of cancer cells with those of healthy cells. 

This method is currently being used by the CINJ through more than 250 clinical trials. Unfortunately, the technology used to sequence and treat tumors is costly. 

Developing better technologies would help bring down the cost of this treatment, and some of the donation money will go toward creating new facilities and running more clinical trials, he said. 

Attacking a tumor through its genome is known as a targeted therapy, said Robert DiPaola, director of the CINJ. Under the Precision Medicine Initiative, targeted therapies will be able to bring a more personalized form of care to patients, he said.

Precision medicine finds the underlying nature of a disease and treats it, Tischfield said. The Human Genetics Institute has already used this technique.

Increasing the number of clinical trials is one goal, DiPaola said. About three in every 10 patients cannot be cured under standard treatments. The other seven can be treated, but the form this treatment takes can be improved. 

Current therapies try to eliminate all cancer cells in a given form the same way, rather than attacking each cell in a more efficient manner, he said. 

In October, The Daily Targum reported that the Office of Translational Sciences would begin creating treatments based on CINJ’s discovery that a certain protein could control cell death.

When this protein, known as p53, is mutated, it stops working, said David Kimball, associate vice president of the OTS. Adding trace amounts of zinc would cause the protein to reform and begin working again.

When p53 does not work, cells stop dying and instead divide endlessly. When it does work, a cancerous cell will die before it can split, preventing tumors from expanding.

Future research in another direction may improve techniques to discover cancer at earlier stages.

Richard Riman, a distinguished professor in the School of Engineering, is working with rare-Earth nanoparticles whose infrared emissions may help detect cancer without requiring biopsies. The University is working on developing this technology to a point where it can see widespread use.

Nikhilesh De

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