(Editor’s note: Additional information was included on Aug. 19, 2019 regarding research progress). At the University of Findlay, pharmacy students are combining knowledge from all fields of science to develop an oral compound that targets glioblastomas, the most aggressive form of cancer occurring in the brain. Using chemistry, physiology and pharmacology, they are researching an efficient way to direct medication to the brain. If successful, this kind of medication could remove the need for risky medical procedures which require physical access to the brain tissue. The research is in its infancy; years worth of study remain to determine the drug’s efficacy.
Originally a passion project of associate professor Rahul Khupse, Ph.D., he has worked with students for four years, teaching them to perform the reactions, find compounds and choose the methodology. After a series of trials and errors, they created the compound RK15, which is very reactive, can kill cells, and create covalent bonds. “It’s amazing to participate in drug development at its roots,” said lab assistant Bernard Bahnam. “Coming up with something out of nothing which will eventually help someone is so rewarding.” Next year, Khupse and his student team will continue work on this research through animal testing.
Medication has a hard time reaching certain parts of the brain due to a lining known as the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Formed by brain endothelial cells, the brain uses this tool to protect itself from fluctuating plasma levels and disease-causing pathogens while still allowing oxygen and amino acids through. Basically, it ensures that if you have a pathogen or toxin in your bloodstream it won’t get to your brain, but oxygen and glucose you need to live will. While beneficial for healthy individuals, it does create an issue when patients with brain tumors, brain disease, or neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s need medication to pass through. By finding a compound that can breach the BBB, medication can then be attached to the compound and have a greater impact on the brain.
Khupse and his student workers completed their search for the perfect compound in a very methodical manner. Armed with a notebook with every compound Khupse ever made or ever thought of, they would begin by drawing the structure. Then, they chose which molecules to use, wrote the chemical reaction on paper and determined how much of each product would be added to each vial. Next, they weighed the products and let them sit, or spur on the reaction with heat or movement. Finally, they used the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), mass spectrograph and chromatology machines to inspect the finished compound, discover the accurate final product, and recording the findings. Maribel Llamas, a student on the project, said, “Even when a compound did not work, we still learned something and that is the point of research.”
This research has allowed pharmacy students to gain practical experience with drug development and machinery while exploring a less well-known career path in pharmacy. “I’m so glad that as early as my third year in the program, I was able to work with Dr. Khupse in this research,” said lab assistant Rachel O’Malley. “I was able to see how concepts I learned in my classes can be applied and learn that this is a real career I could have in pharmacy.”
To learn more about Findlay’s College of Pharmacy, visit www.findlay.edu/pharmacy.