Two new chemistry professors are working to bring notoriety to the university and to give students the opportunity to participate in potentially life-changing research.
Eric Simanek, Robert A. Welch Professor of Chemistry, and assistant chemistry professor Kayla Green are involving students in cancer-fighting research in the professors’ first year on campus.
Simanek is working with students to build polymers that could potentially fight cancer, while Green is researching ways cancer patients can test the efficiency of their treatment without waiting six weeks for an MRI.
“We want to develop a system that is low cost, fast and effective,” Green said. “If we can do that on a weekly basis and look at how well our therapy is working for each patient, we can develop better means of increasing the survival rates.”
Green is also researching ways to prevent some of the effects of Alzheimer’s disease by removing some of the metals that cause the effects.
Simanek’s research with polymers would allow cancer drugs to be delivered directly to tumors rather than going through the bloodstream because of the polymers’ larger sizes. If the drugs can go straight to the tumor, they will lessen the likelihood of nausea, hair loss and muscle atrophy that current cancer patients experience, Simanek said.
“What we’re trying to do is take a tree-shaped polymer, and metaphorically, what we do is pluck off some of these leaves and attach cancer drugs,” Simanek said
Derek Royer, a first-year graduate student who is helping with the research, said the potential life-changing effects have him excited about the research.
“That’s an indescribable feeling, knowing that I could possibly be helping other people,” Royer said.
While the professors are new to the university, they are not new to each other. Simanek was working as a professor at Texas A&M University when Green was there working on her doctorate.
They began working together after Green was able to produce some of the molecules that Simanek needed to attach to his tree-shaped polymers. Green and Simanek are working on getting a grant for collaborative work, Green said.
Simanek’s work has already been able to make tumors disappear in mice. The possibilities are now endless, he said.
“The chemistry department at TCU is a collection of extraordinarily talented individuals,” Simanek said. “A lot of the fundamental science questions are now going to be much easier to answer because there’s expertise right at TCU.”
Bob Neilson, chair of the chemistry department, wrote in an e-mail that Simanek’s research had been a big boost to the university’s chemistry program.
“Professor Simanek also has demonstrated ability to translate the excitement of research in chemistry and medicine to science education and outreach programs,”
Neilson wrote. “We will look to him for leadership in these areas which are so central to the mission of the university.”