Frances Byrne, Ph.D.
Frances Byrne, Ph.D., University of Virginia & University of New South Wales, in the laboratory of Kyle Hoehn, Ph.D. notes that while effective at killing cancer cells, most chemotherapy drugs also damage healthy cells. Therefore development of new drugs with better cancer cell-specific toxicity would dramatically improve the health and quality of life of cancer patients. A unique property of cancer cells is their ability to metabolize glucose differently to most normal cells. This type of metabolism, referred to as the ‘Warburg effect’, allows cancer cells to rapidly grow, survive, and spread throughout the body. This feature of cancer cells exposes a weakness that can be exploited for cancer therapy. The objective of this project was to identify a novel compound that could specifically kill cancer cells by targeting the ‘Warburg effect’. The conceptual innovation of this project was the design of our drug screen. Her experiments developed cell-based assays to screen more than 5000 small compounds. The primary screen identified compounds that increased oxygen consumption in cells (which indicates change in cell metabolism). The secondary screen selected only those compounds that were toxic to cancer cells but not normal cells. The tertiary screen identified compounds that reversed the ‘Warburg effect’ by forcing cancer cells to convert glucose to carbon dioxide. Dr. Byrne is the Hope Funds for Cancer Research Malcolm A.S. Moore Fellow