It’s difficult for Robin Farias-Eisner, M.D., Ph.D., to condense decades of cancer research into a single conversation. But recent developments call for brevity.
Sitting in his office on the second floor of the Hixson-Lied Science Building, Farias-Eisner, the newest director of Creighton University’s Hereditary Cancer Center, explains how he and a team of researchers have discovered a new drug with the potential to treat a broad array of illnesses, including ovarian cancer, colon cancer, macular degeneration, heart disease and more.
“It would be hard to overstate it,” Farias-Eisner says of the potential impact of the find.
The research is one example of how the Hereditary Cancer Center is fulfilling its mission to pursue comprehensive research on all types of cancer. Established in 1984, the center is particularly devoted to cancer prevention through identification of hereditary cancer syndromes.
The center was founded by legendary cancer researcher Henry Lynch, M.D., a Creighton professor and pioneer in the field of cancer genetics. Prior to Lynch’s research, prevailing medical thought held that cancer was primarily caused by environmental factors.
Through what doctors today call “shoe-leather epidemiology,” Lynch tracked down and interviewed cancer patients about their family histories, tracing the inheritance patterns of certain cancers through multiple generations. Researchers now estimate between 5% and 10% of cancers are inherited, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Lynch died at age 94 in June 2019. In July, the University named Farias-Eisner the new head of the Hereditary Cancer Center.
Farias-Eisner came to Creighton from the University of California, Los Angeles. There, as a surgeon-scientist, he earned a Ph.D. in molecular biology and ran his own laboratory specializing in women’s cancer research.
“My ultimate objective was to take care of women who had cancer, particularly gynecological cancers, because I felt that was an underserved population,” Farias-Eisner says.
Through his lab work, Farias-Eisner and co-inventor, UCLA’s Srinivasa Reddy, Ph.D., and a team of researchers identified a group of proteins that serve as early identifiers of ovarian cancer. The research led to the development of OVA1, a blood test that is currently being used worldwide to diagnose the disease.
Building on this work, Farias-Eisner, Reddy and a team of researchers developed HM-10/10, an artificial peptide that has been shown to be effective in inhibiting tumor growth in ovarian and colorectal cancers in mice.
In January, a paper detailing the research, “Bovine HDL and Dual Doman HDL-Mimetic Peptides Inhibit Tumor Development in Mice” was published as the featured article in the Journal of Cancer Research and Therapeutic Oncology. In addition to Farias-Eisner, the paper includes Holly Stessman, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology in Creighton’s School of Medicine.
“This is a story of taking discoveries from the research bench and serendipitously arriving at a novel drug for use at the patient’s bedside,” Farias-Eisner says.
The drug, Farias-Eisner says, has the potential to treat other pro-inflammatory diseases, a category which includes macular degeneration, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and endometriosis, among other clinically devastating diseases.
Prior to publishing on its effectiveness as a cancer treatment, Farias-Eisner and the team published another paper in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences showing HM-10/10’s potential to treat retinal disease (e.g. macular degeneration).
“The reason we wanted to publish in these two areas is to demonstrate the uniqueness of the drug and its clinical applications,” Farias-Eisner says. “Now that we have these two published papers, we can move toward clinical trials.”
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