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UNF researchers secure patent for groundbreaking cancer-fighting compound that can ‘turn off’ cancer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Three University of North Florida (UNF) researchers have made a breakthrough in the fight against cancer, securing a patent for a compound that could potentially “turn off” aggressive forms of the disease.

The three UNF research members have been awarded a U.S. patent for a newly discovered cancer-fighting peptoid, designed to halt the progression of certain breast, colon, and lung cancers, showing promise for improving patient outcomes in challenging cancer treatments.

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UNF is one of the pioneering studies investigating the potential use of peptoids for early cancer detection and treatment. It is the only university known to be engaged in this research.

The research focuses on understanding and targeting protein arginine methyltransferases (PRMT), proteins that when overproduced and highly activated, bind with more proteins in the body. This binding causes methylation, a chemical mark on proteins that activates previously suppressed cancer genes, effectively “turning cancer on.”

The UNF research team includes lead researcher Dr. Bryan Knuckley, chair and professor of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Dr. Corey Causey, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and Dr. Fatima Rehman, associate lecturer of biology.

“We’re still early on in the process, but this is an exciting development, and the research shows promising intervention for the treatment of some aggressive cancers,” said Knuckley.

Dr. Knuckley began this research shortly after joining UNF in 2012, leading the project by identifying and developing new peptoid compounds and conducting biochemical studies to validate their targeting of PRMT proteins.

Dr. Causey contributed by creating the essential building blocks for synthesizing these peptoids, while Dr. Rehman tested the efficacy and specificity of the compounds in human cancer and normal cells. The project also involved several undergraduate students since 2019.

Currently, the team is investigating the specific mechanisms by which these peptoids target and kill cancer cells. Further tests are being conducted on the individual compounds developed during the study. They are also awaiting a second patent related to their research, which they hope to receive within the year.

The first patent covers the treatment of cancers using peptoids targeting PRMTs, while the second, pending approval, will cover the specific peptoid compounds.

“This is a lifetime project to contribute to ending cancer,” Knuckley stated. “We want to continue our research and testing to better understand how these proteins work and how we can improve upon the inhibitor to develop new therapies or pharmaceuticals.”

For more information on this groundbreaking research, you can read the full report in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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William Clayton

William Clayton, Action News Jax

Digital reporter and content creator for Action News Jax

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