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Professor’s NIH Grant Advances Cancer Treatment

Cancer chemotherapy medications like Paclitaxel also produce problematic side effects throughout the body, so Katarzyna Slowinska, an associate professor of chemistry, is investigating how collagen, a naturally occurring bodily substance, can be manipulated into carrying and releasing cancer drugs directly at or even inside tumor cells.

Slowinska received a four-year, $433,500 grant from the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of General Medical Sciences to pursue using short strands of amino acids called peptides to serve as drug nanocarriers. The grant also supports the work of two CSULB graduate students and five undergraduates.

“We have about six different projects but each of the projects are related to the fact that collagen has this beautiful structure of a triple helix, so it looks like DNA, but instead of having two helices, it has three strands twisted together. This triple helix gives collagen its properties of a rigid, rod-like character, so it’s strong,” Slowinska said.

She said the shorter peptides are “a perfect nanoparticle structure because it’s rigid—you cannot bend it—and you can exchange the amino acids, so you can attach anything you like to it.” Moreover, “You’re made of amino acids, so it’s very safe to use it,” she said.