“We are leveraging the latest synthetic DNA technologies to redesign and rebuild biosynthetic pathways for anti-cancer molecules from scratch to make them more productive or to alter the chemical structures of the molecules themselves.”
Michael Smanski (BMBB/BTI) was one of six scientists awarded the Damon Runyon-Dale F. Frey Award for Breakthrough Scientists last month. The award provides funding to Damon Runyon Fellows who have exceeded the foundation’s highest expectations and are most likely to make paradigm-shifting breakthroughs that transform the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Smanski was a 2012-14 Damon Runyon Fellow.
“There are many small molecules produced in nature with relevance to cancer therapy and diagnosis,” says Smanski. “We are working specifically on some new approaches that allow us to engineer the production of these molecules much faster.”
"Natural products" are specialized metabolites that are not required for growth or reproduction in the organisms that make them, but they have diverse — and often poorly understood — properties that make them prime targets for bioengineering efforts.
Smanski is working on a new platform for accelerating the discovery of natural products with anti-cancer properties. He will use genome sequence information from microbes to produce anti-cancer agents in the lab with an eye to demonstrating that this technique can be used to rapidly produce drug-like molecules in a highly efficient manner.
“Sequencing gave us the ability to ‘read’ genome sequences, and new DNA synthesis technologies now make it possible to ‘write’ new DNA molecules,” Smanski says. “We are leveraging the latest synthetic DNA technologies to redesign and rebuild biosynthetic pathways for anti-cancer molecules from scratch to make them more productive or to alter the chemical structures of the molecules themselves.”
“This is a well-deserved award,” says Michael Sadowsky, director of the BioTechnology Institute. “It's a clear example of how basic research can translate into real benefits for society, in Mike's case, as treatments for cancers.”
The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation provides early-career scientists with funds to pursue innovative cancer research. One-hundred percent of donations fund cancer research. Recipients of the Damon Runyon-Dale F. Frey Award for Breakthrough Scientists receive $100,000 to be used toward their research. Learn more
– Stephanie Xenos
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