For the past four years, Dr. Boris Minev and Dr. Douglas Grotjahn have been working together on a cancer research project funded by the SDSU/UCSD Comprehensive Cancer Center Partnership. Dr. Grotjahn, from SDSU, and Dr. Minev, from Moores UCSD Cancer Center, have developed nanoparticle vaccines for prostate cancer treatment.
This project began with Dr. Minev’s study in tumor immunology at UCSD. He had the idea of loading particles with proteins that would induce anti-cancer immune response. He had found that this worked in animals, however, the induced anti-cancer immune response was not strong enough to completely eliminate the cancer cells. Consequently, he sought to chemically coat the nanoparticles to enhance their ability to induce anti-cancer immune responses. Thus began the collaboration with Dr. Grotjahn, a chemist at SDSU. Two of Dr. Grotjahn’s undergraduate students, working with Dr. Minev and one of his undergraduate students, coated the nanoparticles with a substance known as mannose. The mannose-coated nanoparticles have been tested successfully and have fully been able to induce strong immune response directed specifically against the prostate cancer cells. With the working nanoparticles, this project has the potential to contribute to reducing cancer disparities. Prostate cancer has a high incidence rate, especially in African Americans. A vaccine based on the nanoparticles, created by Drs. Minev and Grotjahn, would be simple to administer and relatively inexpensive. Therefore, findings of this study will be used in clinical programs that will benefit many patients with prostate cancer. The three students working on the project all received valuable training in a combination of chemistry and immunology, which helped them go on to further training in medicinal chemistry and public health.