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Mehdi Mollapour, PhD, is a professor of urology, biochemistry and molecular biology at Upstate. (photo by Susan Kahn)
Mehdi Mollapour, PhD, is a professor of urology, biochemistry and molecular biology at Upstate. (photo by Susan Kahn)

Cracking the chaperone code is seen as key to better cancer drugs




An Upstate researcher and professor received a $2.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health that allows him to continue studying the chaperone code, which plays an important role in cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

Mehdi Mollapour, PhD, a professor of urology, biochemistry and molecular biology, and vice chair for translational research in the department of urology, has studied the chaperone code for nearly 20 years.

Molecular chaperones are a group of proteins that are involved in looking after other proteins that play an essential role in health and maladies such as cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. One such chaperone, Hsp90, is a guardian of cancer that can be targeted by small molecule inhibitors. These drugs are currently being evaluated in phase III clinical trials in cancer patients.

“While the genetic code specifies how DNA makes proteins, the chaperone code controls how proteins are folded to produce a functional proteome,” Mollapour explains. “Deciphering or cracking the code is important in understanding how chaperones work in normal cells as well as cancer cells. It will also allow us to improve the efficacy of chaperone drugs (Hsp90 drugs) in treating cancer patients.”

A proteome is the complete set of proteins that cells make and regulate; it provides structure and other functions and is vital to research.

Mollapour is an expert in the chaperone code. The Journal of Biological Chemistry recently published an invited review by Mollapour on the subject. He is also helping to organize the second international chaperone code meeting after the first, held virtually in 2020, attracted more than 300 attendees.

The NIH grant is a prestigious Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award, which supports investigators’ overall research programs through a single, unified grant rather than individual project grants. The goal is to provide investigators with greater stability and flexibility, thereby enhancing scientific productivity and the chances for breakthroughs.

Mollapour credits the work of everyone in his lab, as well as department leadership, for help obtaining the grant.

This article appears in the summer 2021 issue of Cancer Care magazine.

Read it online at issuu.com.

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