YOUR HEALTH: The “Cancer Assassin”

ORLANDO, Florida – Graciela Abrams is a mom, a wife and has a full-time career.

She never thought this would be possible 20 years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 22.

"I just graduated college, I'm looking forward to a future, and for someone to tell you, 'Hey, you have cancer", it's like, stops your world in a second."

When Abrams went into remission a year later, she became a champion for others.

Her cancer was found early and was treatable.  But it's a different story for people whose cancer has metastasized.

"The survival rates are really low," said University of Central Florida cancer researcher Dr. Annette Khaled.

"And even most of the therapies they improve survival for just a few months."

Right now, the five-year survival rate for women with metastatic breast cancer is 26%.

Annette Khaled is looking to change that.

"What we're trying to develop is a therapy that we can hit the cancer cell at a very critical point in their biology and the things that they need to survive," explained Dr. Khaled.

Dr. Khaled is using nanotechnology to deliver a compound to cancer cells and kill them before they spread their damage.

"I'm really hoping that what we have in our hands something that will not only improve survival for more than just a few months into years, may actually even lead to a cure."

HOW IT WORKS: Using nanotechnology, research is now in the preclinical trial phase, using a small 20 amino acid peptide as a cancer therapy.  This therapy in development is a targeted therapy that can hit the cancer cell at a very critical point in its biology, and work to kill the cancer cells and prevent them from spreading throughout the body and affecting other organs.  Introducing the peptide as is into the body would result in it being destroyed, so researchers are working to protect it while traveling through the blood to get to the tumor using a vehicle referred to as the Dane particle.  This nanoparticle is based on a polyester polymer type form that encapsulates the peptide within and keeps it protected from the environment in the blood or tissue.  The nanoparticle will actually reach the tumors and be taken up by the tumor cells and then release the peptide inside the tumor.

Her efforts in cancer research have earned her the nickname "The Cancer Assassin", a title she doesn't mind at all.

"I think it is great because I think it gives hope."

THE CANCER ASSASSIN: Several years ago researchers at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Central Florida first discovered what their peptide research was doing but were unsure of their target. At the same time, the Florida Breast Cancer Foundation liked the premise of the work these researchers were doing and decided to give them some funding. It was at that point the University coined the nickname 'Cancer Assassin' for Dr. Khaled.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.