Blinn students, professor work together to synthesize cancer-fighting drug

Research to be submitted to National Cancer Institute, presented at American Chemical Society National Meeting

Research students on Blinn’s Bryan Campus

March 8, 2017

When Jonathan Ayala-Rosa, Kevin Hernandez, and Sarah Jarwan enrolled at Blinn College, they never imagined their coursework would involve developing a new method for delivering cancer-fighting drugs.

After spending a semester working alongside Blinn Chemistry Professor Dr. Sameh Abdelwahed, the trio can now check that feat off their bucket lists.

“We were given the opportunity to learn beyond the classroom,” Hernandez said. “Instead of just reading from a textbook, we were able to learn by doing.”

Last fall, the trio assisted Abdelwahed in developing a chemical compound that allows dichloroacetic acid (DCA), an anti-cancer drug, to be delivered specifically to cancerous cells. When used on its own, Abdelwahed said, DCA has a tendency to destroy all cells – cancerous and healthy. The group’s research focused on connecting DCA to thiamine (vitamin B1) as a way to deliver the drug directly to the cancer cells.

“Kevin, Sarah, and Jonathan played an important role in this research project by exchanging ideas and proposing new methods,” Abdelwahed said. “I could not have completed this research without the assistance of these students.”

Working alongside an expert in the field gave each student the opportunity to participate in the research process and gain valuable experience that will translate to four-year universities and beyond.

“It was really eye-opening to see first-hand how research is conducted, and how much work is necessary,” Ayala-Rosa said. “I had a very basic background in chemistry, so I had to learn the procedures required for this project step-by-step. I now have a solid foundation for when I pursue more advanced science courses and research.”

The compound is in the process of being submitted to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Maryland, where officials will determine which types of cancer it will be most effective in fighting.

The research also is scheduled to be presented in April at the 253rd American Chemical Society National (ASC) Meeting and Exposition in San Francisco. The annual conference attracts more than 10,000 chemists, chemical engineers, academicians, graduate, and postdoctoral students from around the world.

To earn an invitation to the conference, students must conduct months of research before submitting abstracts detailing their findings to be reviewed by industry professionals. With most presentations coming from four-year universities, it is a unique honor for Blinn to be represented.

“It is rare to have this opportunity to participate in undergraduate research during the first two years at a higher education institution,” Jarwan said. “I chose to work with Dr. Abdelwahed on this specific project because I am very passionate about finding a cure for cancer. Being able to impact people’s lives at this age is an amazing accomplishment.”

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