Ahmed Awad, Ph.D.
Photo Compliments of the 
CI Chemistry Department
Ever wonder what would have happened if Marty McFly didn’t reunite his parents in Back to the Future? He wouldn’t exist of course! Dr. Ahmed Awad and 8 students at CI are on the hunt for ways to best cancer before it exists by developing drugs that specialize in inhibiting gene expression without the use of a DeLorean.

Some drugs target the protein after it has already formed; however, Awad and his team have a very different approach. “Our target is the messenger RNA,” Awad explained. The drugs consist of small segments of nucleic acids called oligonucleotides, which target the messenger RNA in carcinomic cells. The oligonucleotides react with the RNA by Watson-Crick base pairing via two mechanisms. The first mechanism blocks the translation into the protein. The second mechanism activates an enzyme called RNase H, which degrades the RNA/DNA complex.

“Chemical modifications are important to stabilize these drugs,” Awad noted. Reagents must be stabilized against nucleases, enzymes that cause nucleic acids to degrade. Nucleases are capable of degrading injected oligonucleotides within 5 minutes of injection, before the drug can reach its destination.

With any luck the next generation of these gene-inhibiting drugs will succeed in telling cancer to make like a tree, and get outta here.