EL PASO, Texas — Love of chemistry goaded Dr. George McLendon to move from investigations in quantum biology to research in cancer therapy.
After receiving his B.S. (magna cum laude) from The University of Texas at El Paso in 1972 and a Ph.D. from Texas A&M in 1976, McLendon taught at Princeton University and the University of Rochester where he became an expert on a protein called Cytochrome C.
Addressing the students and faculty of the College of Science at UTEP this March, McLendon said, “Life has a funny way about teaching you things.” He explained that before he became the Dean of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences at Duke University in 2004, he was just a chemist interested in researching and learning more about the Cytochrome C protein.
Through his fundamental research in tandem with Dr. Chi-Huey Wong at Tetralogic Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company that works on cancer diagnostics and therapeutics, McLendon discovered how the Cytochrome C protein affects apoptosis (program cell death) in cases where not enough infected cells die off–as in cancer.
McLendon explained that in his research, he is mainly concerned with finding out the therapeutic ratio–the amount of cancer cells that die to normal cells that die in the cell binding process. He said, “By understanding the underlying biology, we’re able to get a much better therapeutic ratio than anyone one else has been able to get to.”
Focused on curing lymphomas in humans, Dr. McLendon’s experiments have shown that the binding of Cytochrome C with the other appropriate protein cells has worked to cure every type of cancer in his controlled studies with lab mice.
McLendon explains that the research is still in progress and said that the drug he and his research colleagues aim to develop, could possibly be more effective in one cancer than another, but nonetheless effective. He added, “We are developing a drug that would enable the cells that were supposed to die, to go and fulfill their destiny.”
A research process that would normally only receive a $100,000 per year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), has moved into the private sector for funding, since approximately $5 million per year is needed to execute it.
Although his initial incentive to research the protein was for fundamental findings, McLendon said, “If we hadn’t learned to do that work along the way, we would have not been prepared when we discovered the new importance of this protein.”
Once the appropriate data has been finalized after research, the process of receiving approval from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) could take anywhere from 1-3 years. McLendon explains, “We’re hopeful that literally over the next three months, we should be able to find out if this really works and if this is something that can help change somebody’s life.”