Special to UM News
“Being a cancer researcher is not only a job, it’s also a commitment to patients and the community,” says Pierre-Jacques Hamard, Ph.D., an associate scientist in the laboratory of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center Director Stephen D. Nimer, M.D. “That is why I am doing the 5k run at this year’s Dolphins Cancer Challenge.”
On a regular day in the lab, Hamard is studying the mechanisms driving leukemias, which are blood cancers. He’s particularly interested in a gene called PRMT5, what role it plays under normal conditions, and what it does in cancer cells. Eventually, he and his colleagues want to use PRMT5 as a target for new precision therapies because the gene has been shown to be over-expressed in a number of cancers. “The idea is, if we inhibit PRMT5 or the resulting protein with a small molecule, perhaps we can kill the cancer cells that depend on that gene to function,” he said.
The laboratory Hamard works in collaborates with a number of biotech companies to identify compounds that target this protein. “We already have small molecules that we can test in the lab on different systems and we have preliminary data showing that these compounds can slow down the proliferation of cancer cells,” he said. “Obviously, this is very preliminary and we need to confirm our findings in different systems, but it is very encouraging.”
Hamard is a co-author of a 2015 scientific paper that described the role of PRMT5 in normal, non-cancerous cells. “We found that PRMT5 is a very important gene for blood production in the body,” he said. “The question now is how can we treat leukemia patients without affecting the role PRMT5 plays in normal blood production?” Since PRMT5 is over-expressed in leukemia, scientists believe that cancer cells could be more dependent on this gene than normal cells, which might render them more sensitive to PRMT5 inhibitors, offering the clinicians a therapeutic window for targeting PRMT5.
This kind of research taking place at Sylvester is possible partly because of the funds received from the DCC. “I’m doing what I’m doing because of the patients and I want to discover new and better cures and therapies,” said Hamard, who also rode in last year’s DCC. “I love to show people that even we scientists, who have dedicated our lives to research, are also involved in events like the DCC. We are not only ‘lab rats;’ we are also passionate community members and we want to tackle cancer once and for all.”
To register for the DCC, which will take place on Saturday, February 20, please visit TeamHurricanes.org.