OU Researchers Target Heart Health with New $15 Million Grant

May 27, 2015

To improve cardiovascular health in Oklahoma, a $15 million grant will advance work by researchers at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the School of Community Medicine in Tulsa in collaboration with health professionals statewide.

Targeting Recurrent Cancer

May 28, 2015

OU research points to way to help prevent cancer’s return

When bad guys want to elude capture, they may hole up and lie low.  Researchers at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center believe it may be much the same with cancer after traditional treatment.  Now, they’ve uncovered a way to target dormant cancer cells where they hide.

targeting-recurring-cancer-2The OU team is led by Robert E. Hurst, Ph.D., professor of Urology and director of Basic Research at the OU College of Medicine, and by Michael Ihnat, Ph.D., associate professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences with the OU College of Pharmacy.  Both also are members of the Stephenson Cancer Center.

“While treatment of cancer has advanced, cancer-specific survival has changed remarkably little over the past half century. That is mainly because our treatment models are all aimed at primary tumors, and that’s not what kills people. Ninety percent of patients die of metastatic disease that is resistant to most of our cancer drugs. Even if not initially resistant, it often soon becomes resistant,” Hurst said.

Hurst and his team hypothesized that the cells responsible for cancer’s later return may be lurking in the body on the extracellular matrix. The matrix is a collection of molecules outside of the cells that provides structural and biochemical support to those surrounding cells. The OU team discovered that the micro metastatic cells are initially suppressed while on the extracellular matris, but eventually are again able to multiply and spread.

targeting-recurring-cancer-1“Until that happens, they are just sitting there like ticking time bombs  ̶  ticking time bombs that turn into  metastatic tumors a month, 10 months, a year, even 10 years later,” Hurst said. “There are elements in the extracellular matrix that keep cancer cells from growing. So we said, ‘if this is so, then can we identify drugs that target these cells before they form metastatic tumors?’ Because if we can do that, we can prevent metastatic tumors and those are what kill people.”

To target the micro metastatic cells while still dormant, Hurst, Ihnat and their team began looking for compounds that are more active on cancer cells located on normal extracellular matrix as opposed to those grown on a more cancer-friendly environment. They screened thousands of compounds utilizing a test based upon earlier laboratory work that showed that cancer cells placed on normal extracellular matrix were, in fact, suppressed. Of the 13,000 compounds screened, they found only three that might be useful as weapons against micro metastatic cells, but those three worked well.  

“Tigers turned into pussy cats. The cells lost their malignant properties and looked much more normal. If we treated with our compounds, the cells went away. If we treated with traditional chemotherapy drugs, nothing happened,” Hurst said.

One compound, in particular, showed great promise.

“So we focused on the one that had a little bit more retention in our laboratory model.  And we also found a variant of that compound that was orally active.  That could potentially be taken as a pill.  And we tested it in our laboratory model and what we found was that it resulted in greater than 97 percent reduction in the formation of metastatic tumors,” Ihnat said.

Hurst and Ihnat believe the compounds hold promise as powerful new cancer-fighting drugs; and although the research looked only at a breast cancer model in the laboratory, Hurst and Ihnat believe the discoveries may have implications for many cancers.

“This really could help revolutionize how we treat cancer as we focus not only on treating the cancer but on targeting the dormant cancer cells that hide within the body just waiting for their chance to again grow and spread,” Ihnat added.

With additional funding, the OU team believes they could be ready in as little as a year to go to the Food and Drug Administration for approval for an Investigational New Drug study. The first in-human clinical trials would likely focus on recurrent breast cancer.

With the University of Oklahoma, Hurst and Ihnat formed an independent company in 2007 to advance efforts to target dormant cancer cells. To date, they have received $3 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health through National Cancer Institute small business innovation grants. The Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology has also provided funding.

The research is published online in BMC Cancer at:

Oklahoma’s only comprehensive academic cancer center, the Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma is a nationally noted leader in research and patient care. The Stephenson Cancer Center annually ranks among the top five cancer centers in the nation for patients participating in National Cancer Institute-sponsored clinical trials, and it is one of 30 designated lead centers nationally in the Institute’s National Clinical Trials Network. In collaboration with the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, the Stephenson Cancer Center is decreasing the burden of cancer in Oklahoma by supporting innovative laboratory, clinical and populations-based research. The Stephenson Cancer Center has 200 research members who are conducting over 100 cancer research projects at institutions across Oklahoma. This research is supported by $31.1 million in annual funding from the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society and other sponsors.
OU Medicine Launches Breast Health Network

Friday, May 22nd, 2015, 2 p.m.

OU Medicine is proud to announce the formation of the OU Medicine Breast Health Network, Oklahoma’s largest and most comprehensive network of breast imaging radiologists and specially trained staff with a direct connection to the research and treatment options available through OU Medicine.

Targeting Recurrent Cancer

Thursday, May 28, 2015

When bad guys want to elude capture, they may hole up and lie low.  Researchers at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center believe it may be much the same with cancer after traditional treatment.  Now, they’ve uncovered a way to target dormant cancer cells where they hide.

OU Medicine Live Chat: All Things Summer Safety


Friday, May 22nd at 10 a.m.

Summer is a time for fun; but all too often, it is also a time for accidental injuries.  - but for many, it can also lead to accidental injuries.   The most common injuries relate to burns, heat-related illness, lawn mower, bicycle and ATV accidents, mishaps with campfires, grills or fireworks, near-drownings. Injury prevention experts at OU Medicine say proper precautions can help you skip the trip to the emergency room this summer.

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