Dr. Max Kullberg, a postdoctoral fellow in Tom Anchordoquy’s lab in CU’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, is highlighted in this year’s Komen Denver Race for the Cure advertising and 9NEWS.com testimonials for his research on the use of nanoparticles to target breast cancer tumors.
“We have many chemotherapeutic drugs that are able to kill tumor cells. The problem is that they also damage normal cells, which lead to some of the intolerable side effects associated with chemotherapy,” says Kullberg.
Currently, cancer treatment uses a slash and burn approach – cut out as much of the cancerous area as possible and then flood the entire body with chemotherapy drugs, “taking out both the good and bad cells and causing a lot of collateral damage in the process.”
Dr. Kullberg’s research focuses on how to target and deliver potent chemo drugs to a specific tumor cell.
Funded by a postdoctoral fellowship from Komen, Dr. Kullberg’s work uses targeted nanoparticles as a delivery mechanism. Nanoparticles are microscopic spheres where small, concentrated amounts of medications can be inserted and then delivered to a specific cancer cell.
Targeted nanoparticles act like a chauffeur-driven car with GPS, transporting medications to their final destination -- a specific tumor cell. The chauffeur navigates through the cells until it reaches the cancerous one, then opens the car door and hand-delivers the passenger (medication) to and through the doorway. “The beauty of nanoparticles is that you can target the tumor cell and restrict the drug from getting into normal tissue, making the drug more effective and reducing harmful side effects of chemotherapy treatment.”
Kullberg has been studying breast cancer and how to deliver chemotherapy drugs with specificity to certain types of breast cancer for 11 years. And for the past 11 years Komen has been a constant. When others like the NIH said no to funding, Komen said yes. For Kullberg, the first “yes” was in Alaska where he initially started his research, and now at CU’s Skaggs School of Pharmacy.
Because of Komen funding, Kullberg has tested the therapy, treating cells that have Her-2 overexpression and normal cells without Her-2 in the lab. The Her-2 gene has become an important biomarker and target of therapy for approximately 30 percent of breast cancer patients. “We showed that we could specifically kill the Her-2 overexpressing cells while leaving the normal cells unharmed.”
Based on these results, Kullberg is testing the system in an animal model. The next step after animal modeling is the clinical trial phase. Kullberg explains, “this is a long process, but if our research is effective in targeting and delivering drugs to specific cancer cells we will be more effective in treating breast cancer without all the harmful side effects.”
The Race for the Cure, slated for Sunday, Sept. 29 at Pepsi Center, is one of the largest in the country. This year as in years prior, Dr. Kullberg will be running in the event albeit in Denver versus Anchorage. “It’s both humbling and motivating to be out there knowing that everyone around me donated money so that my research can continue.” Check out Dr. Kullberg’s interviews on 9NEWS.