Within a laboratory on the Florida State University campus, a chemist leads a team of researchers in a quest to develop synthetic versions of rare natural substances. If all goes well, the team’s efforts could pay off in the form of the next generation of cancer-fighting drugs.
Such research often is a long, laborious process that can take years to generate results—but is essential if breakthroughs in medicine, engineering and the sciences are to occur. In the FSU chemist’s case, the state of Florida has acknowledged that the wait may well be worth it.
Gregory B. Dudley, an assistant professor in FSU’s department of chemistry and biochemistry, recently was awarded a $450,000, three-year grant from the James & Esther King Biomedical Research Program, which is operated by the Florida Department of Health.
The program (www.floridabiomed.com) supports biomedical research on the prevention, diagnosis, treatments and cures for tobacco-related diseases, including cancer.
Dudley and his doctoral students are doing research on the synthesis of roseophilin, a naturally occurring compound produced by an obscure species of bacteria. Roseophilin (pronounced rose-ee-oh-FILL-in), which was first identified by Japanese researchers in 1992, is cytotoxic, meaning it kills cancer cells.
Public funding such as the King grant is essential if scientists are to continue to make progress in the ongoing battle against cancer and other diseases, Dudley said.
"The grant will allow us to engage in the kind of fundamental research that is needed to bring down the cost and increase the effectiveness of future pharmaceutical drugs," he said.
Dudley explained that the overall mission of his lab is to develop better access to synthetic versions of "biologically important" chemicals for which nature provides a limited supply. Typically, he said, he and his students choose a molecule that has shown interesting properties and then use it as a springboard for scientific discovery. Such is the case with roseophilin.
"Roseophilin is emerging as a promising new avenue for cancer research," he said. "If we can develop a process for creating large amounts of this and similar compounds both cheaply and efficiently, then it becomes much easier to determine how effective they are at fighting certain types of cancers."
Naresh Dalal, chairman of FSU’s department of chemistry and biochemistry, called Dudley an innovative researcher in a promising field of cancer research.
"Many labs across the world have been and continue to be interested in roseophilin," Dalal said. "Here at FSU, Professor Dudley has devised a strategy aimed at providing relatively easy access to synthetic roseophilin, and he recently completed a ‘proof of principle’ study that supports his research design. He also is developing synthetic production methods related to and inspired by his roseophilin studies.
"In short, cancer researchers the world over will benefit from his work."
Dudley praised the James & Esther King Biomedical Research Program, saying it "arrives at a critical time in Florida. Our population is growing and aging, which will increase the need for front-line biomedical applications at a time when federal funding of basic sciences is becoming tougher to obtain. This grant has a profound impact on my lab because it enables us to grow our program and demonstrate the impact of our research."
Dudley acknowledged the example set by another FSU chemist, Robert Holton, in inspiring his own research. In the early 1990s, Holton gained fame when a scientific breakthrough in his lab enabled a process for synthesizing large quantities of taxol, a compound derived from the Pacific yew tree that has proven successful at combating breast cancer.
"I came to FSU as an undergraduate and met Professor Holton then," Dudley said. "His presence was one of the factors that drew me back here as a professor."
Additional information on Dudley’s research is available online at www.chem.fsu.edu/dudley/index.html.