July 8, 2011

Divide And Conquer: Young Ambassadors help researcher track down cancer’s Achilles’ heel

Puck Ohi, Ph.D.

When the United States declared a “War on Cancer” 40 years ago, the endeavor was envisioned as a strategic battle, with doctors and researchers employing overwhelming force and lethal technology in a straightforward march to victory against a disease that claimed millions of lives.

Scientists have made progress in the ensuing years, yet the enemy remains a mysterious foe, in part, because cancer cells can be so devious. They grow and multiply in a dangerous rush or smolder quietly for years before striking their victims.

Chemotherapy is often the weapon-of-choice in the battle to kill these deadly invaders. Designed to poison all fast-growing cells, including cancer cells, the chemotherapy may appear to be working but, all too often, a few cancer cells manage to escape and return to attack the patient.

“We are trying to find the Achilles’ heel of human cancer cells,” said Ryoma (Puck) Ohi, Ph.D., assistant professor of Cell and Developmental Biology at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.