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A team led by Cyrus Vaziri, PhD, and William Janzen at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has received a grant from the National Institutes of Health for research that could help make chemotherapy drugs more effective.

Vaziri, the lead principal investigator on the grant, is an associate professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the UNC School of Medicine. Janzen is the director of assay development and compound profiling at the Center for Integrative Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

The R01 grant will provide up to $860,000 over three years to support the development of drugs that will improve existing cancer therapies.

Some chemotherapy drugs work by damaging the DNA of cancer cells. However, many cancer cells acquire DNA damage tolerance by activating a mechanism called trans-lesion synthesis.

“We are looking at ways that we can block the activities of key proteins in this mechanism,” Janzen says. “This approach will increase the efficacy of some of the front-line chemotherapy drugs such as cisplatin and might provide an effective new strategy for targeting chemo-resistant cancer cells.”

Vaziri and Janzen are members of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Preliminary data for the grant application were generated through studies supported by the University Cancer Research Fund, a nation-leading investment to stimulate cancer research and reduce North Carolina’s leading cause of death.