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UA Team Pursues Research to Decrease Negative Effects of Chemo

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Yoshie Sakamaki

Graduate student Yoshie Sakamaki, a member of the Beyzavi’s research group, stands next to the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance on April 17. The NMR is one of the machines used in Beyzavi's lab for chemotherapy drug research.


Chemotherapy produces harmful side effects for cancer patients, but new research at the UofA could lead to more effective treatment.

A team of UA researchers are testing new metal-based compounds that could decrease the negative effects of chemotherapy, said the leader of the team Hassan Beyzavi, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

The team published its work in theNew Journal of Chemistry April 4 under the Royal Society of Chemistry, a 175-year-old international organization. The research was also published in Applied Organometallic Chemistry January 11, according to the journals’ websites.

In order for an article to be published, the research must be peer-reviewed by other professionals in the field. Both of the articles were featured on the front covers of the journals.

Cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy treatment can experience fatigue, appetite loss, nausea, vomiting, hair loss and more, according to the National Cancer Institute. Currently, cisplatin is the anti-cancer medicine used in chemotherapy, but altering the drug with different gold- and platinum-based compounds could improve treatment, Beyzavi said.

The major drawback of chemotherapy is the toxicity, Beyzavi said. Chemo drugs lack the ability to specifically target the tumor, so it attacks the entire body and not just cancer cells. This creates the negative reactions like fatigue in patients. The research team made multiple drug options that work differently than cisplatin to destroy tumors.

Patients typically show a positive initial response to chemo, but then the tumors come back because their bodies resist the drug, Beyzavi said. The researchers are focusing on two major problems: the toxicity of chemo and the resistance of the treatment.

Relapse, or recurrence of the cancer, can happen within a matter of weeks, develop over months or sometimes come back years later, according to the National Cancer Institute.

“There is always a demand for coming up with the new drugs so that you can overcome these types of problems,” Beyzavi said.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a fact that influenced Beyzavi to pursue this research, he said.

Senior Rudy Timm has witnessed the effects of chemo, he said. His mother has stage-four breast cancer, and he was two years old when his mother was diagnosed in 1997. She relapsed in 2017.

“She never really let me see her, like bald,” Timm said. “So you know it was something that was definitely hidden, in the sense of the severity of it. She just tries to stay in the moment as much as possible.”

Beyzavi had Timm in class, and after Beyzavi mentioned the research during a lecture, Timm began helping him in the lab.

Timm helps one of the team members working on an anti-cancer drug, he said. Working in Beyzavi’s lab provides an opportunity for Timm to help with chemotherapy research.

“When it comes to me pursuing, [hopefully], a future in medicine, the opportunity that I have in Beyzavi’s lab is the most about it you can do at this current moment,” Timm said.

The team used software to narrow down different combinations of molecular chemicals to find the most effective drugs, Beyzavi said. They created drugs with gold- and platinum- bases to test their effect on tumor cells.

The researchers tested the drugs on ovarian, breast and lung cancer cells made in his lab, Beyzavi said. He found new anti-cancer drugs based in gold and platinum were more effective than cisplatin, which is platinum-based.

The new drug options use less material to do the same amount of work as cisplatin, Beyzavi said. This means patients would be injected with lower doses of toxic material, consequently resulting in decreased side effects and less resistance.

Tumor cells are able to reject the treatment because they mutate, Beyzavi said. They change their structures to fight against the anti-cancer drug. By using a lower dosage, the drug is less likely to attack the healthy cells, and the tumors are less likely to resist. The cancer patient should have a better long-term response to treatment with less doses of chemo.

Cisplatin attempts to stop the fast duplication process of cancerous cells by interlocking DNA strands so the cell cannot copy, Beyzavi said. DNA needs to be copied in order to multiply, so two DNA strands unzip for the cell to duplicate, but cisplatin binds the strands together.  

Compounds made in Beyzavi’s lab work to kill the tumor cell, whereas cisplatin tries to stop the growth process of the cell, he said. Normal cells go through a process called apoptosis, which is like a program that informs the cell it is time to die. By introducing the new drug to cancer cells, it imposes a code that tells the tumor cell to die quickly.

“It is very promising data,” Beyzavi said. “There are already all these drugs in the queue waiting, but usually since it will be administered into humans, it requires a lot of [Food and Drug Administration] approval.”

It could take about 10 years for the new anti-cancer drug to be implemented commercially, pending FDA approval, Beyzavi said. More tests will occur before using the drug on a person.

Tegan Shockley is a staff reporter for the Arkansas Traveler, where she has been a staff reporter since 2017.

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