An Introduction to Targeted Cancer Therapies


University of Kentucky pic
University of Kentucky

As a student in the pharmaceutical sciences PhD program at the University of Kentucky, Dr. Sherif Mohamed El-Refai focused on experimental clinical treatments. Dr. Sherif Mohamed El-Refai works on assessing individual genetic responses to cancer therapies.

In traditional chemotherapy, potent drugs attack and kill any rapidly dividing cells within the body. This ideally leads to the death of cancer cells and thus the reduction in size of tumors, though it often also results in the development of unpleasant side effects. The recent development of targeted cancer therapies, however, are specially designed to harm only the cancerous cells and can thus optimize effectiveness while minimizing side effects.

Most cancer cells have genetic anomalies that make them different from normal cells. These anomalies cause abnormally high production of a certain protein, which in turn leads to the development of cancer. In addressing these genetic and protein changes, targeted therapies can address a cancer’s root cause.

Today’s targeted therapies may block a protein, refine the body’s immune response, or destroy the proteins that keep a cancer cell alive. The appropriateness of each as a treatment method depends on the patient’s cancer type as well as his or her individual body chemistry and gene expression.


The Black Lab at the Markey Cancer Center

Markey Cancer Center pic
Markey Cancer Center

After earning a PharmD at the University of North Carolina and a PhD in pharmaceutical science at the University of Kentucky, Sherif Mohamed El-Refai wanted to put his pharmacy expertise to use in serving diverse patient populations. In 2014, Sherif Mohamed El-Refai joined the Markey Cancer Center as an oncology pharmacist to research improvements in treatment for lung cancer.

The Markey Cancer Center, founded in 1983 at the University of Kentucky, operates in affiliation with the College of Medicine and the College of Pharmacy. Striving to reduce the morbidity and mortality of cancer, Markey provides multidisciplinary clinical care for patients and conducts comprehensive research on ways to prevent, detect, and treat various cancers. Markey is the only cancer center in Kentucky designated by the National Institute of Cancer and one of only a few across the country.

One particular area of research is on cancer cell biology and signaling and another on drug discovery, delivery, and translational therapeutics. Along those lines, the Black Lab was established in 2004 to examine gene expression and how control of gene expression in individual patients affects the ways in which they respond to different treatments. After analyzing patient responses, researchers in the Black Lab then conduct experiments to test and improve therapies.

The Purpose of the University of Kentucky’s Black Lab

University of Kentucky pic
University of Kentucky

Pharmacist Sherif Mohamed El-Refai is working toward a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences as a student in the doctoral program at the University of Kentucky. Sherif Mohamed El-Refai joined the university’s Black Lab research group to study lung cancer.

Established in 2004, the Black Lab is part of the University of Kentucky’s College of Pharmacy. Maintaining membership with the American Society of Clinical Oncologists, National Lung Cancer Partnership, and American Association for Cancer Research, among other oncology research organizations, the lab and its researchers focus on comprehension of gene expressions and its impact on cancer therapy. This is achieved by designing wet-lab experiments using patient tumors as well as analyzing bio-informatics data.

The lab has successfully produced numerous publications since its inception. In 2015, the group released a publication on how corporate communication strategies can be integrated into doctoral pharmaceutical sciences programs to help students gain communications skills unrelated to science. The previous year, works on endocrine therapy and a phase II study of fulvestrant and everolimus were published. Both concentrated on the breast cancer treatment.

UK Researchers Explore Anticancer Properties of Natural Products

UK College of Pharmacy pic
UK College of Pharmacy

Sherif Mohamed El-Refai, who already holds a doctor of pharmacy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is now working on a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences from the University of Kentucky (UK). As an experienced pharmacist, Sherif Mohamed El-Refai also serves as an oncology pharmacist at the UK Markey Cancer Center and performs lung cancer research.

In a recent press release, the UK College of Pharmacy highlighted a collaborative research project that is working to provide more information about the anticancer properties found in natural products. The collaborators published an article entitled “A Divergent Enantioselective Strategy for the Synthesis of Griseusins,” which explains a new way to create the compound griseusins. Published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition, the article reports on how the new method resolves longstanding issues related to total synthesis of griseusins.

During the study, the researchers learned that the metabolites act in a mechanistically dissimilar way, and the new synthetic approach facilitates exploration of the molecules’ structural elements. According to the assistant dean for translational research, the study discovered structural components that shed light on the anticancer properties of griseusins. The project united investigators from the UK’s Center for Pharmaceutical Research and Innovation and the UK Markey Cancer Center.

University of Kentucky Researchers Create Thermal Cancer Treatment

UK HealthCare facilities pic
UK HealthCare facilities

With a doctor of pharmacy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Sherif Mohamed El-Refai is now working to earn a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences from the University of Kentucky. Sherif Mohamed El-Refai also conducts lung cancer research and serves as an oncology pharmacist at the University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center.

The University of Kentucky recently issued a statement announcing that the Food and Drug Administration has granted clinical trial approval for an investigational medical device to treat advanced lung cancer that was developed by university researchers. Created through a project funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Exatherm Total Body Hyperthermia System (Exatherm-TBH) heats and circulates blood through the vascular system at a temperature of 107 degrees Fahrenheit during a four-hour treatment.

According to the research lead, Dr. Jeremiah Martin, cancer cells can be more easily impaired by heat than normal tissue, and the systemic hyperthermia method assails cancer cells all around the body simultaneously. For the clinical trials, the researchers are encouraging patients with late-stage lung cancer who have exhausted their conventional treatment options to consider participating. The University of Kentucky researchers are hopeful that a safe method for full-body heat delivery that targets cancer cells will lead to a better way to treat patients whose cancer has metastasize.

Cancer Research Support Funds at the Markey Cancer Center

As an oncology pharmacist at the University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center, Sherif Mohamed El-Refai is focused on contributing to the research and treatment of cancer. In the interest of making cancer treatment methods more successful, medical professionals like Sherif Mohamed El-Refai donate their time and experience toward cancer research at the Markey Cancer Center. The general public can also take the initiative to support cancer research by donating to one of the following funds.

The Cathy Coop Fund: This fund is sponsored in memory of Kentucky medical professional Cathy Coop. Peritoneal and ovarian cancer patients who receive treatment at the Markey Cancer Center and demonstrate financial need are eligible to receive donations from this fund, which helps cover the cost of treatment as well as other necessities, such as medication, childcare, and transportation.

Ironcology Program: Founded by University of Kentucky radiation oncologist Dr. Jonathan Feddock, this program supports the advancement of treatment technology at the Markey Cancer Center. As Dr. Feddock participates in the Ironman Louisville Triathlon, donations are pledged for the number of triathletes he passes during the race. Since 2014, Ironcology has helped raised nearly $142,000 for cancer.

The Nick of Time Fund: Founded by 13-year-old Nick Wrobleski, this fund sponsors lung cancer prevention measures and early detection methods for Kentuckians. The fund began with Wrobleski raising money for awareness through soda-can tab collections, informative essays, and the sale of wristbands.