Novel Nano-Therapies for Pancreatic Cancer
Professor of Pathology and Oncology, The Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
Dr. Maitra's research goals are focused on the identification and preclinical validation of rational, cancer-specific therapies for pancreatic cancer. Unlike commonly used cytotoxic agents, "mechanism-based" strategies utilize specific biochemical differences between cancer and normal cells and thus, the effects of chemotherapy are selectively detrimental to cancer cells only. For example, a compound may be lethal to pancreatic cancer cells that have deleted both copies of a particular gene, while normal cells can "bypass" the effects of this drug by retaining one or both copies of the implicated gene. Another broad class of "mechanism-based" therapies that is being pursued in Dr. Maitra's laboratory involves small molecule inhibitors of developmental signaling pathways. These pathways (for example, Notch and Hedgehog) are active during embryonic development but are quiescent in most adult somatic cells. Considerable evidence has now accrued that demonstrates the aberrant re-activation of these developmental signaling pathways in human cancers, including the majority of pancreatic malignancies. Targeting these pathways with specific small molecules provides a powerful avenue for therapy, while potential circumventing toxicities associated with conventional anti-metabolite compounds.