Changing cancer outcomes: UC Researcher awarded grant to test medications for second use

UC Researcher awarded grant to test medications for second use (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - A local mother who lost her son to cancer could help change outcomes of the disease.

She's helped launch a new study at the University of Cincinnati using some common medications in some uncommon ways. It could save lives.

Her son was so full of life. Karen Gromada could hardly believe that, shortly after her 35-year-old son Brandon saw a doctor to remove some nasal polyps, "he called me and said, ‘Mom, one of them is malignant, I have cancer, head and neck cancer,’” said Karen.

For a while, they thought he would be okay.

“The treatment for head and neck surgery is really, really rough,” said Karen. A few years later, shortly after getting married and having a beautiful baby girl, Brandon lost his battle. His family says they lost a person who was full of goodness in its purest form.

His mother decided then that she would not let the memory of her young man-- a man of quiet strength-- die in vain.

“I wanted him to be remembered for that and for cure-- not for dying young. So when he died, I knew the only thing that would get rid of this cancer is research,” said Karen.

And so it began. The Brandon Gromada Head and Neck Foundation now provides grants each year to cancer researchers all around the world.

“They are not big grants, but they are for innovative projects to sort of get them off the ground,” said Karen. But they are big enough for one researcher who was also touched by cancer when her own mother was diagnosed with the disease.

Her name is Dr. Nira Ben-Jonathan. She has just been awarded this year’s “Gromada Grant” to study a common chemical messenger called dopamine. “It's primarily known for its work in the brain,” said Dr. Ben-Jonathan.

But she's testing them in an uncommon way. It appears that if you activate specific receptors for dopamine on a cancer cell, then as Dr. Ben-Jonathan says, “there are certain drugs that modify the receptor and send the cell into cell death, what we call apoptosis.”

In other words, you target a medication to kill off cancer.

Her trial will look at four specific medications showing promise in this way. They are already on the market for everything from blood pressure problems to men’s health concerns.

Some of those drugs are ones that people know because of sexual dysfunction such as erectile dysfunction. Viagra, Cialis, and other such drugs work very well in killing breast cancer cells.

Dr. Ben-Jonathan says it appears they may also work well in killing head and neck cancer cells.

"Someday we are going to get rid of this, and my son’s name is going to be attached to that,” said Karen.

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