Dr. Fan Zhang Receives DoD Award to Study New Prostate Cancer Therapy

Fan Zhang, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the research laboratory of Jiaoti Huang, MD, PhD, has been awarded a United States Department of Defense (DoD) Prostate Cancer Research Program (PCRP) 2023 Early Investigator Research Award.

The research conducted in the Huang Lab has previously shown that advanced prostate cancer cells, not normal cells, are addicted to glutamine, and inhibition of glutamine catabolism may be an effective treatment strategy. However, multiple metabolites generated from different glutamine catabolism pathways can stimulate tumor cell proliferation, making it difficult to achieve desired therapy outcome by inhibiting a single enzyme.

The Huang Lab collaborated with Dracen Pharmaceutical to test its prodrug DRP-104– a compound that is inactive until it is metabolized into an active drug 6-Diazo-5-oxo-l-norleucine (DON) after being ingested. DON is structurally similar to glutamine and competitively inhibits multiple enzymes involved in glutamine catabolism. Zhang will further study this exciting therapeutic approach that takes advantage of DON’s tumor inhibitory activity while avoiding its GI toxicity, which may benefit many patients who are out of treatment options.

In addition to Huang, Zhang’s co-mentors include Duke investigators Daniel George, MD, and Andrew Armstrong, MD, both world-class medical oncologists who treat patients with advanced prostate cancer.                                                                    

Earlier this year, Zhang contributed to a study that received a Challenge Award from the Prostate Cancer Foundation for her work with Huang and others developing a novel therapeutic treatment strategy for prostate cancer patients.

Zhang received her PhD degree from the School of Life Sciences, Fudan University in China, where she explored therapeutic targets in pituitary neuroendocrine tumors (PitNET) based on a proteogenomics strategy. As a member of the Huang Lab, she performs metabolic studies and omics analyses to discover more effective therapies for advanced and therapy-resistant prostate cancers.