Last Saturday evening, the Living Arts Centre hosted Mississauga’s third TEDxMississauga conference with Dr. Patrick Gunning, Dr. Joseph Gabriele, Mary Ellen Bench, and Shelli Varela as speakers. The event’s theme was “Limitless” and celebrated the potential of the Mississauga community. The event included performances from the UTM Dance Team and UTM Music Club. The Medium rounded up highlights from the TEDxMississauga conference.
Patrick Gunning, an associate chemistry professor at UTM, is well known among the student population for his ongoing cancer research. What many may not know is that prior to teaching chemistry, Gunning completed his Ph.D. at the University of Glasgow and postdoctoral work at Yale University before transitioning to Mississauga.
For the last 10 years, Gunning has been focused on the STAT3 protein. Gunning poked fun at his obsession, saying that he and STAT3 go back a lot further.
“I’m from a little island on the west coast of Scotland called Bute. And if you look at the shape of Bute, it looks almost identical to STAT3, so maybe it was fate that I was meant to target this protein,” he joked.
The STAT3 protein has been called “a master regulator”—it expresses genes that “lead to division, growth, preventing cell death, and tumour growth”. In cancer cells, this protein is permanently switched on.
Gunning and his team have been using medicinal chemistry to develop drugs that target STAT3 in cancer cells—specifically, a molecule that acts as an inhibitor for the STAT3 protein.
“We do this with organic chemistry, which is everyone’s favourite subject at university,” says Gunning. “Biologists don’t like us. They call us cooks and chefs, and Breaking Bad has propagated that idea.”
Gunning’s molecule has to overcome several obstacles, such as being able to bind effectively to the STAT3 protein, withstand human metabolism, and affect only its intended targets (i.e. not healthy human cells) in order to be a viable treatment.
Because Gunning’s work is patent-protected, he referred to the molecule his team is working on as “compound X”.
“We started off with a molecule that [has lots] of different targets, and wasn’t particularly a good drug, but we optimised it in a rational way towards compound X, which we believe is on target,” said Gunning. “We’re really excited by the preliminary research data.”
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