MTSU professor, students research possible breast cancer treatment

Photo courtesy of MTSU News

Story by Sabrina Tyson / Contributing Writer

Ying Iris Gao, a Middle Tennessee State University associate professor and lead researcher at the Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research, has been able to study the DMDD compound, a low-toxicity compound from the root of a starfruit tree that is showing a lot of promise for being an anticancer agent, despite being in the early stages of testing. DMDD, which stands for 2-Dodecyl-6-methoxycyclohexa-2,5-diene-1,4-dione, has shown few adverse effects, along with the ability to kill up to 80 percent of cancerous cells.

The research being conducted by Gao as part of the TCBMR focuses on finding a treatment specifically for metastatic breast cancer. Metastatic cancer is when the cancer is late stage and has traveled to places such as the liver, kidney and bones.

“For a pharmaceutical company to develop a drug, it would normally take more than 10 years,” Gao said. “There are more studies that need to be done, but it is very promising.”

Gao said that metastatic breast cancer “is one of the most fatal diseases in American women.” About 26 percent of women diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer are likely to live five years past their diagnosis, according to research collected by the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

The TCBMR uses plant and herb-based compounds for anticancer, antiviral and diabetic research. The center mainly uses plants that have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for research.

Gheda Alsaif, a second-year doctorate candidate for the MTSU Molecular Biosciences program who has been working closely with Gao, hopes that this research can help save lives.

“Going through your normal day, you come in contact with people who are either suffering from cancer or who know people who have cancer,” Alsaif said. “So, I think going that deep, you can touch people’s lives. It just needs a lot of work.”

The compound is available due to a partnership MTSU has with Guangxi Medical University in China. The exclusive partnership started in 2013 and has allowed MTSU researchers to study the university’s compounds, some of which cannot be found anywhere else.

“The compounds that they have are either isolated or purified from the herbal medicines that have been used to treat people for many, many years,” Gao said.

The root of the star fruit tree from which the DMDD compound was isolated from has traditional medicinal purposes, such as to treat chronic headaches, inflammation and joint pain. Studies on the compound have also shown the compound to be useful in treatment for diabetes.

So far, the compound has been tested on mice and human cancer cells, and MTSU representatives are on the way to furthering the research, according to Gao.

“Continued research will lay a foundation for developing this as an anti-breast cancer drug,” Gao said.

If the research in animals and human cancer cells continues to show success, the next step in testing will be clinical trials, which takes place in three phases: testing drugs on healthy volunteers, testing the drug on patients to test side effects and testing the drug on patients to test effectiveness.

“More cellular (tests) and animal studies need to be done,” Goa said. “And, we hope it will be brought to clinic trials eventually.”

To contact News Editor Andrew Wigdor, email newseditor@mtsusidelines.com.

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