Pharmaceutical sciences assistant professor continues commitment to cancer research
Published March 21, 2012
Erxi Wu’s interest in cancer research began when he witnessed his friend battle the relentless disease. It was reinforced a few years later when he was in postdoctoral training and a professor in his research area died from lymphoma.
Wu wanted to help. Now, as an assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences at NDSU, Wu conducts important research and dutifully shares his work with others.
In 2011, Wu’s lab published 20 papers on various cancer research projects in numerous publications, including Current Molecular Medicine, Journal of Immunology, Journal of Biomedical Informatics, Cancer Letters, PLoS ONE, Journal of Neuro-Oncology, European Journal of Pharmacology and Molecular Cancer.
His work focuses on tumor therapeutic targets, drug target proteins, biomarkers, drug discovery, natural products, traditional Chinese medicine/complementary and alternative medicine, and pharmacogenomics.
His latest efforts involve understanding the biological mechanisms linked to the spreading of medulloblastoma, a highly malignant brain tumor that originates in the cerebellum. He is working to target the molecules responsible for it metastasizing and will then study effective treatment strategies.
Wu’s lab also studies pancreatic cancer, which has a nearly 100 percent mortality rate. Patients with higher levels of fasting serum glucose have higher death rates from pancreatic cancer compared to patients with lower levels of fasting serum glucose. However, the reasons have not been understood.
Collaborating with Ma lab at Xi’an Jiaotong University, China, Wu and his lab have examined the neural alterations in pancreatic cancer patients with hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and identified the relationship between the neural alterations and perineural invasion (cancer spreading around a nerve). They have demonstrated that high glucose promotes pancreatic cancer cell proliferation. They now are testing if chronic stress in a negative social and psychological state plays a critical role in pancreatic cancer development and progression. Wu hopes the results will have a therapeutic or preventive potential for patients with pancreatic cancer who are especially subject to psychosocial stress.
Wu’s lab also is exploring the use of natural products in treating cancer. For example, they have detected anti-cancer activities of a component of tea, called tea epigallocatechin-3-gallate. Results show the tea component, present in abundance in widely consumed tea, inhibits cell proliferation, invasion and angiogenesis (the physiological process involving the growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing vessels) in breast cancer patients who also are undergoing radiotherapy. They also are investigating the tea epigallocatechin-3-gallate efficacies in patients with lung cancer.
Wu’s motivation is fueled by cancer’s increasing impact. He said new statistics show cancer is the leading killer of people younger than 85. One out of two men and one out of three women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes.
The challenge is great, but Wu remains optimistic. “Our research efforts, with other people’s research, surely will help to improve the lives of millions of people now, and millions to come, who suffer from cancer,” Wu said. “The answer to find the cure for cancer is research. We will continue to do innovative cancer research and collaborate with physicians to conquer cancer.”
Wu finished his doctorate in biochemistry from Sheffield University Medical School, Sheffield, England, in 1998. He then conducted postdoctoral research in cancer biology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard University. From 2004 to 2008, he led a research group as a faculty member at Children’s Hospital Informatics Program of the Division of Health Sciences and Technology at Harvard-MIT.
He joined NDSU in 2008 as a tenure-track assistant professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences.