Yoon receives R01 grant to study mTOR

The University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria has received a five-year $1.85 million federal grant to learn why some cancers are resistant to targeted drugs such as rapamycin and how treatment can be successful despite the resistance.

The recent advent of targeted cancer therapy has shed light on new cures against metastatic and advanced cancer that could not be treated by conventional treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy, said Sang-Oh Yoon, PhD, assistant professor of cancer biology and pharmacology and principal investigator on the study that is funded by the National Cancer Institute.

One of the major shortcomings of the therapy, Yoon said, is the cancer’s resistance to drugs. It initially led to a dramatic decrease in tumor burden and an increase in overall patient survival. However, tumors in many patients eventually became resistant to the drugs, and tumors reoccurred.

Yoon’s research focuses on mTOR (mammalian or mechanistic target of rapamycin), widely regarded as one of the master regulators of cell growth. Drugs that target mTOR were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and they are actively used in clinics to treat cancers. Currently, the second generation of drugs that target mTOR that were recently developed are used in clinical trials to treat many cancers. Cancer resistance and recurrence to these drugs remains unsolved.

“We are working to identify cancer’s resistance mechanisms toward mTOR targeting drugs and identify strategies to overcome this resistance and prevent tumor recurrence,” said Yoon, a member of the University of Illinois Cancer Center.

The research, said Yoon, is relevant to public health due to the critical need to identify more effective disease treatments. Considering that many current therapies have limited effectiveness, “we are using what we have learned about tumor cells’ responses to the mTOR inhibition to work towards treatments that have higher success.

“We hope that our study will provide influence on the success of future mTOR-targeted cancer therapies and personalized medicine.”

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