Doctoral student helps develop cancer-fighting compound

Having your name on a U.S. patent isn’t so unusual for university scientists.

But to have your name on a patent while still a student – that’s another story.

But Daniel Ladin isn’t an ordinary student. First, he’s a doctoral student in the pharmacology and toxicology program at the Brody School of Medicine. He’s part of a team that synthesized a molecule that has proved effective at killing cancer cells without harming surrounding tissue.

They believe that with the help of a pharmaceutical company it can be developed into a topical agent that can treat skin cancer at a lower cost and without surgery. They also say it has potential to treat colon cancer as well, though in a different formulation.

“We think this drug can offer an alternative approach as a chemotherapy agent and do it at low cost for the patients of eastern North Carolina,” Ladin said. “We’d also like to use it as a way to reduce the amount of recurrence (following surgery). Sometimes when you get the tumor removed, it will grow back. What we want to do is make those margins a little bit smaller for the surgeon and also add this drug there so we can eliminate any stray tumor cells that we may not have gotten with the surgical procedure.”

The other team members are Colin Burns and Allison Danell, associate professors of chemistry on main campus and adjunct professors of pharmacology and toxicology at the medical school; and Rukiyah Van Dross-Anderson, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Brody.

They are among the dozens of researchers who were recognized last month and are being officially celebrated this week during ECU‘s annual Research and Creative Achievement Week, which lasts through Friday. Some 425 undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral student are presenting their academic and artistic works through Friday at Mendenhall Student Center.

Ladin, from North Brunswick, New Jersey, has a bachelor’s degree from the New Jersey Institute of Technology in its joint program in chemistry with Rutgers University. He came to ECU because the Brody School of Medicine has a combined pharmacology/toxicology program and had the feel of a smaller university where “everybody’s on the same team,” he said.

East Carolina University, I really felt like, could bring out the best in me as a scientist, which it has,” he added.

Ladin spent a year working with Burns and Danell, starting with molecules of similar structure to the fatty acid molecule Van Dross-Anderson had identified that could kill tumor cells. They made the molecules more complex until they found a molecule that killed tumor cells without harming non-tumor cells. Then they synthesized it.

“Eureka,” Ladin said. “I mean it was fantastic. It was really an exciting moment in my career, that’s for sure.”

In addition to working on his doctorate, Ladin is part of the Brody Graduate Student Association, he teaches a course lecture to physician assistant students and has logged nearly 700 hours tutoring undergraduate and graduate students.

“It really helps you to broaden your knowledge of other areas of pharmacology,” he said of teaching and tutoring.

Van Dross-Anderson said Ladin came to ECU with a strong background in chemistry, which made him a good fit for the team as it worked to develop the molecule.

“His expertise was really critical for actually synthesizing the molecule,” she said.

Having his name on a patent should also give him an advantage as he enters the job market, Van Dross-Anderson said.

“Number 1, it denotes again that thinking beyond what is required of you,” she said. “That’s where the innovation comes in. It also demonstrates he has been through this experience (of applying for and receiving a patent). This is a long, drawn-out process. Those employers want to know you understand the patent process” and all that’s involved as far as confidentiality and other aspects of it, she added.

The patent is titled “J-Series Protaglandin-Enthanolamides as Novel Therapeutics.” The four patent-holder will be inducted into the National Academy of Inventors.


Original story by Doug Boyd, ECU News Services. Video by Rich Klindworth. Photos by Cliff Hollis. Published April 3, 2017.