President's Report Masthead
December 31, 2015

Biochemist seeks new way to fight cancer

At its core, chemotherapy to treat cancer is a matter of poisoning the patient and hoping the cancer dies before the patient does.

Binghamton University biochemist Brian Callahan has discovered a new way to fight cancer, one that attacks only the cancer cells and promises fewer side effects.

He hunts hedgehogs. No, he’s not Elmer Fudd.

Hedgehogs are proteins that help govern how cells develop. Normally, once a person reaches maturation, the hedgehogs turn off. But in some cancers — prostate, pancreatic, ovarian and lung in particular — the hedgehogs somehow turn back on, and force uncontrolled cell growth: cancer.

“Pharmaceutical companies have been after hedgehogs for years,” says Callahan, an assistant professor of biological chemistry. One in particular, Erivedge, binds with the same receptors that hedgehogs activate, blocking the cancer development.

“We don’t want to compete with Big Pharma,” Callahan says. “We’re trying a new strategy; we’re going after hedgehogs directly.”

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