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USC Stem Cell and USC Norris Cancer Center accelerate drug discovery

Teams will test drug candidates with the potential to help patients with cancer and bone fractures

Three teams of USC stem cell researchers have won a coveted prize — the opportunity to test 3,000 drug candidates or chemicals for the potential to help patients. Two teams will focus their efforts on cancer; the third will search for ways to accelerate the healing of large bone fractures.

The free screens will take place at the Choi Family Therapeutic Screening Facility, part of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC. Andrew McMahon, director of the stem cell research center, is sponsoring the bone repair project, and Stephen Gruber, director of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, is sponsoring the two cancer-related screens.

The bone repair project brings together Gage Crump and Francesca Mariani, two principal investigators at USC’s stem cell research center. They will test a variety of chemicals to see which ones encourage cartilage progenitors to develop into “ossifying chondrocytes,” a special type of cell that promotes bone growth. Such chemicals would hold promise for healing large fractures in patients.

NIH screening image

Andrew McMahon and Stephen Gruber are sponsoring the screens. (Photo/courtesy of National Institutes of Health)

A second project led by Shou-Jiang Gao, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Norris cancer center, is seeking new treatments for a group of tumors and cancers caused by Karposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus. The goal is to use the screening facility to find potential drugs that inhibit or kill tumor or cancer cells, but have no effect on healthy cells.

Amy Lee, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the cancer center, is heading up the third project. Her team will use the screening facility in its quest for potential drugs to suppress a cancer-promoting protein called GRP78. The protein plays a major role in the growth and survival of a wide variety of cancers, including pancreatic adenocarcinoma.

Courtesy of McMahon and Gruber, all of these researchers will have complimentary access to the screening facility’s extensive chemical libraries, equipment and technicians. The screening facility was recently established with a donation from The Choi Family Trust.

“Drs. McMahon and Gruber have sponsored these free screens to encourage translational research at USC,” said Justin Ichida, director of the screening facility and principal investigator at the stem cell research center. “Their goal is simple: transforming today’s discoveries into tomorrow’s cures.”

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USC Stem Cell and USC Norris Cancer Center accelerate drug discovery

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