Pranam Chatterjee, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and computer science, is one of ten recipients of the 2022 Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award. Chatterjee will receive $100,000 a year for the next three years for his project, “Targeted Protein Degradation for the Treatment of Ewing Sarcoma.”
Ewing sarcoma is a rare form of cancer that primarily affects children, adolescents, and young adults. For patients with localized Ewing sarcoma tumors, the five-year survival rate is over 80%, but for those patients whose tumors have metastasized or recurred after remission, the survival rate plummets to less than 15%.
“The Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award represents the first external grant of my lab,” Chatterjee said, “and my team is very motivated to use the funding to develop a novel, much-needed therapy for Ewing sarcoma.”
The protein that causes Ewing sarcoma is EWS-FLI1, a fusion cancer protein that drives Ewing sarcoma cells to divide uncontrollably. Another protein, TRIM8, controls levels of EWS-FLI1 and helps the cancer survive. Removing TRIM8 will kill the cancer cells, but so far, the only drugs available have not been successful in targeting proteins, such as TRIM8, that underlie pediatric sarcomas.
Chatterjee develops generative artificial intelligence algorithms to design peptides that can bind to “undruggable” proteins, and then experimentally links these peptides to enzymes that can destroy these proteins. His “ubiquibody” technology is a safer alternative to other cancer-fighting drugs, but has not yet been used to break down proteins, like TRIM8, that cause pediatric sarcomas. Funding from The Hartwell Foundation will allow the Chatterjee Lab to leverage these algorithms to design ubiquibodies that will eliminate TRIM8 to treat Ewing sarcoma both in vitro and in vivo.
“We are confident that, with The Hartwell Foundation’s generous support, we will be able to cure Ewing sarcoma and eventually other ‘undruggable’ pediatric cancers with our integrative technologies,” Chatterjee said.
Duke has been designated as one of The Hartwell Foundation’s Top Ten Centers of Biomedical Excellence every year since 2006. Each year, the Foundation invites each Top Ten Center to nominate three researchers to compete for Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Awards for early-stage, innovative, and cutting-edge biomedical research with the potential to benefit children’s health.