Damon Runyon Researchers

Meet Our Scientists
Deepak Nijhawan, MD, PhD

Despite recent advances, lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer related death in the United States, and there is an urgent need for new therapies. The most successful treatments for lung cancer to date are the targeted drugs erlotinib and crizotinib. These drugs block tumor growth in cancers that respectively harbor either mutations in EGFR or translocations in the ALK gene. Unfortunately, only a minor fraction of patients’ tumors have EGFR mutations or ALK translocations; therefore, the vast majority of patients lack an effective targeted therapy.

Dr. Nijhawan aims to identify novel targets in lung cancer so that similarly effective therapy can be developed for other patients. He has identified a set of chemicals called benzothiazoles that are effective in blocking the growth of 25% of lung cancer cell types tested. The protein target of the benzothiazole and the genetic alterations that predict sensitivity are unknown. His research focuses on identifying both the benzothiazole protein target as well as predictive biomarkers that explain why only certain lung cancers are susceptible to its effect. The identification of these biomarkers in lung cancer patients may highlight a set of patients who could be treated with benzothiazole-related compounds.

Project title: "Using chemistry to identify new targets in lung cancer"
Institution: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Award Program: Clinical Investigator
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Steven L. McKnight, PhD, and David H. Johnson, MD
Cancer Type: Lung
Research Area: Chemical Biology