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Peyton Works with Other UMass and Penn State Researchers on Pioneering Cancer Therapy

Shelly Peyton

Shelly Peyton

Chemical Engineering (ChE) Professor Shelly Peyton, the Armstrong Professional Development Professor in the ChE department at UMass Amherst, is a co-investigator on a multi-institutional project funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to engineer cancer cells that act as tiny “trojan horses” for attacking other cancer cells, according to an article released by Penn State University.

As the release explains, “Penn State engineering researchers, in collaboration with University of Massachusetts investigators, recently received a five-year, $2.5-million grant from the National Cancer Institute to build, model, and failure-test customizable, dual-switch, gene drives that convert cancer cells into [‘trojan horses’] to kill other cancer cells that have become drug resistant.”

The principal investigator on the project is Penn State’s Justin Pritchard, the Dorothy Foehr Huck and J. Lloyd Huck Early Career Entrepreneurial Assistant Professor and an assistant professor of biomedical engineering.

As Pritchard encapsulates the project, “It’s a high-risk, high-reward study. We plan to engineer self-destructive cancer cells that can kill neighboring drug-resistant cancer cells.”

As the Penn State release explains Peyton’s collaboration with Penn State, “Peyton, an expert in tissue engineering, will lead the design of microenvironments to determine how the gene therapy functions under different conditions. Peyton’s team will study how certain switches or parameters fail, or why they function well in some environments but not others.” 

The Peyton Research Group is composed of engineers and biologists whose mission is to learn how cells process information from their chemical and physical tissue environment.

As Peyton says, “We design polymeric biomaterials to create models of human tissue and use them to study how cells move, grow, and respond to drugs in different tissue environments.” Peyton uses this approach to find new ways to stop cancer metastasis, discover more effective cancer drugs, and develop other groundbreaking approaches to additional medical conditions.

Another co-investigator in the NCI project is Michael Lee, associate professor of systems biology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who will contribute measurements of cell death in experimental systems that will allow the Pritchard lab to build mathematical models and experiments in human cancer cell lines. (March 2022)