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.