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Leukemia & Lymphoma Society honors Ohi’s research

Jun. 6, 2013, 9:00 AM

Puck Ohi, Ph.D., assistant professor of Cell and Developmental Biology, has received the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society SCHOLAR award for his research on the role of enzymes that affect cell division, which has implications for treating cancer and blood disorders like leukemia and lymphoma.

Puck Ohi, Ph.D.

The five-year research grant will provide more than $500,000 to support Ohi’s research.

“I am very pleased and honored to receive this competitive grant award in support of research that is relevant for patients with leukemia, lymphoma and other forms of cancer,” Ohi said.

Cancer is a family of diseases caused by uncontrolled cell division and is treated with chemotherapies that kill rapidly growing cells. “Anti-mitotics” are commonly employed anti-cancer drugs which work by derailing the process of cell division.

The chemotherapy drug Paclitaxel, for example, inhibits the function of the mitotic spindle, a cellular device that separates replicated chromosomes as cells divide. Although Paclitaxel is effective, it produces unwanted side effects because it targets tubulin, a protein also vital in non-dividing cells.

Two enzymes that work together during cell division to build the mitotic spindle are Eg5 and Kif15. The role of Eg5 during spindle assembly has been well-defined by investigators in the field and Eg5 inhibitors are currently in clinical trials as cancer drugs.

“In contrast, the function of Kif15 during spindle formation is not known, and drugs targeting this protein do not exist,” Ohi said.

Work done by Emma Sturgill, a graduate student in Ohi’s lab, has laid the foundation to better understand the role of Kif15 during spindle assembly, and produced human cell lines that promise to be potent drug discovery tools in the pursuit of Kif15 inhibitors.

“Our ultimate goal is to discover drugs that inhibit or block Kif15 to test our hypothesis that combination therapies of Eg5 and Kif15 inhibitors will be superior to Eg5 inhibitor monotherapies. Since leukemic cells are exquisitely sensitive to Eg5 drugs, our first priority is to apply concepts and tools that emerge from our work to blood borne cancers,” Ohi said.

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