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Home > ARRA Stories > KU Lung Cancer Researcher Wins $300K Recovery Act Grant
KU Lung Cancer Researcher Wins $300K Recovery Act Grant

August 20, 2009

LAWRENCE – Emily Scott has always worried about smokers' health. As a young girl, the assistant professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Kansas would hide her grandfather's cigarettes from him – fearful that his smoking could cut his life short.

Photo of Emily Scott

Photo of Emily Scott

But Scott's health-minded hijinks were bad news for the family's dog: "I used to hide them in the doghouse. The poor dog would eat the cigarettes and get very sick every time I visited," recalled Scott.

Today, Scott uses advanced research to continue her fight against disease caused by smoking – and her innovative approach has been rewarded with a $303,150 grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This new award builds on nearly $1.4 million she had earned previously from the National Institutes of Health for the same line of investigation.

Scott's research is directed at understanding how a particular lung enzyme works – the cytochrome P450 enzyme that breaks down nicotine. Ultimately, the KU researcher hopes to detect ways to stop the enzyme from producing a carcinogen during its nicotine processing. With that knowledge, Scott might be able to design a drug to halt DNA damage that smokers inflict on lungs – harm that often develops into lung cancer.

"To understand how this enzyme works, my lab has previously used a technique called X-ray crystallography to essentially take before and after snapshots of the cytochrome P450 enzyme – that is, still shots before and after foreign chemicals like nicotine bind to it," said Scott. "This grant will support application of a new technique, nuclear magnetic resonance, that will essentially allow us to obtain a video of the cytochrome P450 as it binds different chemicals. It's like the difference between looking at before and after pictures of a car crash and watching a video of that car crash when trying to figure out what happened."

Enzymes are molecules that do the chemical work in an organism. Cytochrome P450 enzymes clear most drugs and foreign chemicals from the body. "From the Tylenol one takes for a headache to the pesticide residue on an apple," Scott said. Her research could shed light on the ways such enzymes function, beyond their ability to trigger lung cancer.

The Recovery Act grant from the National Institutes of Health supports the nuclear magnetic resonance technique to determine how cytochrome P450 enzymes each can bind so many differently shaped foreign chemicals. The award supports collaboration between Scott and KU assistant professor Jennifer Laurence from the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, who is an expert in nuclear magnetic resonance.

"This is an excellent example of the Recovery Act enabling a collaboration that will accelerate research on a metabolic enzyme that has been linked to human lung cancers," said Richard Okita, who oversees Scott's grant at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health. "By collaborating with an expert in NMR spectroscopy, Scott will be able to get a closer look at cytochrome P450 2A13's structure, bringing her closer to finding new anticancer agents. The funding will also go toward hiring additional researchers – another goal of the Recovery Act."

Indeed, Scott and Laurence's research could bring economic gains to Kansas, as well as boost health for the roughly one-quarter of the adult population in the United States that smokes cigarettes. For example, the new grant will allow Scott to make a new hire and buy U.S.-made scientific instruments.

"In addition to the advancement of science, this grant accomplishes the goals of the Recovery Act by supporting the creation of one new NMR scientist job and by supporting the purchase of several large pieces of equipment from American companies – equipment that will be used to produce the cytochrome P450 enzymes we are studying," Scott said.

Already this year, KU researchers have won $6.1 million in grants made possible by the stimulus package, funding important research and bringing money into Kansas at a time when it is badly needed.

This article originally appeared on the University of Kansas website. Reposted with permission.

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