A Pelotonia Fellow Develops New Way to Beat Multiple Myeloma
Cancer cells are devious.
They can trick the body’s natural killer cells – the “soldiers” of the immune system that detect, attack and hopefully defeat cancer cells – into thinking they’re “just another ‘good guy,’ kind of like a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” said Tiffany Hughes.
With the support of a Pelotonia Fellowship, Tiffany, who works in the lab of Dr. Don Benson at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center (OSUCCC), is working on a drug that shows great promise in unleashing natural killer cells on multiple myeloma (MM), a blood cancer similar to leukemia and lymphoma.
Tiffany has developed a coating that makes the drug more soluble. This is a vital step in the development of the drug, as Tiffany’s discovery allows the drug to better navigate its way through the body and reach the elusive target: MM cancer cells.
“The drug we’re developing specifically targets cancer stem cells,” Tiffany said. “So, rather than simply managing the mature (MM) cells … we are attempting to get rid of the cancer at the source.”
This is important because it would “help prevent relapse and lead to a curative therapy … and since the cancer stem cells have been destroyed, the patient wouldn’t have to continue taking the drug indefinitely,” she said.
Tiffany graduated from Ohio State with a degree in biology in 2003. Next up was a PhD program in integrated biomedical sciences at OSU. She worked in the lab of Dr. Mike Caligiuri, director of the OSUCCC, CEO of the James, and the founder of Pelotonia.
“In Mike’s lab, I did basic research on how natural killer cells work,” Tiffany said. “As an undergrad, it seemed more like following recipes.” Working in Mike’s lab, she began to “see research as art. You get to make the rules and come up with the experiments. It’s creative.”
Don Benson’s lab was next door. Don – an expert on MM research and treatment – gave a talk that Tiffany attended, and “I noticed some of the abnormal properties of multiple myeloma that Don talked about were similar to the natural killer cell markers we were looking at.”
After she earned her PhD in 2012, Tiffany went to Don with a research proposal.
“He said, ‘this is great, but I don’t have any money to fund your research.’”
This is where Pelotonia, and the two-year post-doc fellowship came in, along with support from the MMORE for Multiple Myeloma Research Fund (the MMORE peloton has ridden in Pelotonia since 2009).
“Pelotonia kept me here,” said Tiffany, who started riding in 2012. “I interviewed with Oxford University (England) and a few other places. But this is where I want to be and this project is what I want to be doing. It utilizes all my talents and skills.”
Some of the specifics of the MM research in Don’s lab is proprietary, but here are basics:
They’re investigating a chemical compound that “makes the NK cells stronger and kills the MM cells,” Tiffany said. “It worked in a dish … will it work on mice?”
The initial results we only so-so, according to Tiffany. “The problem is it wasn’t very soluble, it was hard to get it into the system. It wasn’t making it to the tumor.”
And this is where the coating that Tiffany developed came into the equation, and soon the testing. The next step is testing the chemical compound on mice.
If the results are “promising, this will aid us in securing full intellectual property rights to our drug, and we will then begin aggressively moving our drug toward (clinical trials),” said Tiffany, who has been a Pelotonia Rider for five years. “Our ultimate goal is the same as Pelotonia’s goal: To end cancer.”
Steve Wartenberg is a journalist, cyclist and longtime Pelotonia Rider. Steve is one of just a handful who have pedalled every mile of every Pelotonia. This year he is going above and beyond his fundraising efforts as a High Roller! email@example.com.