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Their Strength Is Their Weakness: Targeting Cancer Cells With Their Own Weapon
Start Date: 10/23/2019Start Time: 4:00 PM
End Date: 10/23/2019End Time: 5:30 PM

Event Description
BIOMED Seminar

Their Strength Is Their Weakness: Targeting Cancer Cells With Their Own Weapon

Ceyda Acilan Ayhan, PhD
Assistant Professor
School of Medicine
Koc University
Istanbul, Turkey

From a molecular point of view, every cancer is unique. Each one is equipped with a different set of mutations and abnormalities that drive oncogenic transformation. While these abnormalities give cancer cells the necessary tools for their survival, they also distinguish them from normal cells and serve as therapeutic targets. In our laboratory, we aim to develop strategies to selectively kill cancer cells, using their own deficits as potential targets for cancer therapy. Towards this goal, we undertake different complementary approaches against the anomalies that cancer cells exhibit.

One area of interest in our laboratory is understanding the molecular basis of chromosomal segregation defects that are frequently observed in cancer cells. Unlike normal cells, cancer cells contain extra centrosomes, which may form multipolar spindles (MPS), leave one/some of the cells with insufficient genetic material and trigger death pathways. Nevertheless, cancer cells divide successfully by coalescing their extra centrosomes into two poles. Our work has identified a mitotic kinase Nek2A with a role in centrosomal unclustering and showed that while its disruption results in clustering and bipolar divisions, its over-expression can uncluster centrosomes leading to MPS. Hence, we currently aim to identify novel Nek2A targets and determine which one of these targets play a crucial role in centrosome clustering. This way, selective killing of cancer cells exhibiting supernumerary centrosomes may be possible through poisons towards those targets.

Another area of our interest is the characterization of anticancer drugs and investigation of their molecular mechanisms of action. Defects in epigenetic pathways involving increased expression levels or abnormal patterns of activity are one of the key drivers of cell proliferation in cancer. A particular example of these defects is the MLL-AF9 fusion gene, seen in mixed lineage leukaemia (MLL). While the normal function of the MLL gene regulates the expression of developmental genes, chimeric MLL shows abnormal activity and contributes to the process of malignant transformation. The ultimate purpose of this project is to develop a personalized medicine approach by targeting epigenetic processes dysregulated in patients bearing the MLL-AF9 fusion protein using targeted drugs.

This talk will give a brief overview of these projects and discuss about their future implications and clinical potentials.

Dr. Ceyda Acilan Ayhan received her BSc degree in Molecular Biology and Genetics with honors from Boğaziçi University, Istanbul in 2001. She then earned her doctoral degree in 2006 at the University of Pittsburgh in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology. She pursued her research interests as a post-doctoral associate at the University of Pittsburgh. In 2008, Dr. Ayhan joined TUBITAK, Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Institute as a Senior Researcher. She received a Chief Senior position in 2013 and associate professorship in 2014. In 2018, she joined the Koç University School of Medicine, Istanbul as a full faculty member and established her cancer research laboratory. Her work is supported by several funding sources including TUBİTAK, FP7 Programme, and Koc University School of Medicine (KUSOM). She has been awarded by the Turkish Academy of Sciences (TUBA-GEBIP), Turkish Academy (BAGEP), L’Oreal UNESCO Women in Science Program, Molecular Cancer Research Association (MOKAD) and Eczacibasi Pharmaceuticals. Her research is centred around examining the selective vulnerabilities of cancer cells for the ultimate development of specific anti-cancer agents.

In addition to her academic career, Dr. Ayhan is one of the co-founders of DFA BioXcell (BXL) Genetics and Biochemistry Inc., which is a privately held, joint stock company based in Istanbul, Turkey. The contact office in USA is located in CIC Philadelphia, 3675 Market Street.
Contact Information:
Name: Ken Barbee
Phone: 215-895-1335
Email: barbee@drexel.edu
Ceyda Açılan
Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building (PISB), Room 120, located on the northeast corner of 33rd and Chestnut Streets.
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