New treatments for cancer have a “Greek” tone
At only 38 years old, he has published more than 60 scientific journal articles and co-founded three biotech companies that have raised more than $100 million in research funding.
He is a Greek-Canadian scientist, Edward Chouchani, who is a professor at Harvard Medical School and an associate professor at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, conducting research to decode the secrets of cell function for therapeutic benefit.
“As a Greek who grew up in Canada, it’s very important for me to be able to connect, to be connected, to the Greek scientific community, to be part of the up-and-coming scientific generation.
It’s exciting for me,” he says, who was in Greece a few days ago to receive an award from the Bodossaki Foundation, an important distinction for scientists under the age of 40.
His research on metabolites is a guide to new treatments for cancer and other serious diseases such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes. The aim of the research is to exploit the mechanisms of metabolites to develop new treatments for metabolic, inflammatory and metastatic diseases.
“One of the biggest problems in medicine at the moment,” he notes, “is that the vast majority of proteins we would like to manipulate have no drug.”
As he explains, “There is no drug that targets the protein, whether we’re talking about cancer, inflammation, metabolic disease. That’s because we don’t know how to design a small molecule to bind to the protein and modify its function. If we understand how nature puts metabolites on proteins, we will usurp the mechanism we will take the snapshot to create a drug that targets those proteins.”
“Metabolites are the most dynamic part of biology, they are constantly sensing the environment, constantly detecting changes, contributing to growth. Precisely because they are so sensitive to external stimuli, they are like a language, a way of communicating. For this reason, biology systems use metabolites as a form of communication (with cells),” he explains, and goes on to answer whether his research could have an impact on diseases such as diabetes and obesity.
“When the muscle is exercised, the electrical metabolite is secreted into the local circulation. It is important for us to know how the muscle responds to exercise that it becomes stronger more sensitive to glucose and insulin. The electrical metabolite, contributes to this process and we hope that by understanding this mechanism, this metabolite, we can manipulate these processes therapeutically, to ‘capture’ some of its benefits.”
His recent work on lactic acid, a metabolite associated with cancer development, has led to the discovery of new mechanisms of cancer cell function.
“Lactic acid is a famous metabolite that has been linked to cancer for decades, almost 100 years,” he explains.
“It is well known that tumours that grow show a large accumulation of lactic acid. Our work, showed that this metabolite has the ability to bind directly to specific proteins in the cell and manipulate their function. This recent discovery about lactic acid, that it can ‘communicate’ with proteins, is important for controlling processes of rapid growth of cancer cells.”