Innovation — June 28, 2017

Drug Discovery Research Could Lead to Improved Cancer Treatment


NEWARK, Ohio, June 28, 2017 – The Ohio State University at Newark Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Ozlem Dogan Ekici and several of her students are conducting drug discovery research which could extend or save the lives of those suffering from Multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer that develops in the plasma cells found in bone marrow.

“Specifically we focus on making inhibitors for the 20S proteasome, which is a validated multiple myeloma target,” said Dogan Ekici. “If you block the activity of the proteasome, you actually block the tumor cells from proliferating. That slows the onset of the disease.”

Dogan Ekici was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey. She received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Boğaziçi University in Istanbul in 1998 and moved to the United States the same year. She earned her doctorate in organic chemistry at Georgia Institute of Technology in 2003. Dogan Ekici teaches an introduction to chemistry class on the Newark campus where she recruits future research assistants.

“I try to develop a good relationship with the students that I teach,” said Dogan Ekici. “Eventually, I start talking about the research I conduct in the lab on the Columbus campus. That’s my recruitment method in the class. I guess the students who are determined to do research, we kind of click, and they come find me when they transition to the Columbus campus to finish their degrees. Then we start working together.”

Dogan Ekici currently has four research assistants who affectionately call her “Dr. Oz.” All of them started on the Newark campus and became interested in her research during her introduction to chemistry course.

“Since there are such scarce opportunities for research on the Columbus campus, I knew I had a contact here,” said Matthew Schechter, a neuroscience major from Columbus. “I do know a lot of people who are older than me and the same major as me, who don’t have the same experiences because they don’t have the connections. It was very fortunate that I went to the Newark campus because it gave me all these deep connections with the university that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

“Cancer runs in my family. To be able to work with it and try to figure out anything we could do progressing toward a cure is so amazing,” said Lucy Fowler, a biology major from Columbus. “Working on this research with Dr. Oz has affirmed what I want to do with my life. I like being in the research field and working with different chemicals. I’m working to help people. It’s great.”

“I actually knew a lady who had multiple myeloma. That made the research personal for me,” said Kayla Kasper, a chemistry major from Granville. “If I had not met Dr. Oz on the Newark campus, I wouldn’t be doing research like I am today. Ohio State Newark helped me get my start.”

“You know when you’re little you always think you are going to be an astronaut, or you are going to do some big crazy thing,” said Courtney Werner a microbiology major from Pickerington. “But, to actually be part of a team that could actually cure cancer is pretty amazing.”

Dogan Ekici recently received a grant to purchase a plate reader to use in her research. The equipment will allow her to involve more Newark campus students in her research because the equipment can be transported between campuses.

“It’s a small box, and it is portable,” said Dogan Ekici. “We purchased the laptop that goes with it. So, I can pack it in the trunk of my car and take it to Newark, use it there and bring it back here when it is needed.”

The next step in her research is to test the synthesized inhibitors for activity in vivo against multiple myeloma cancer cell lines, and Dr. Dogan Ekici is in the process of establishing a collaboration at the James Cancer Hospital.

The Ohio State University at Newark offers an academic environment that’s challenging but supportive with world-renowned professors and access to Ohio State’s more than 200 majors. It’s where learning comes to life. Research, study abroad and service learning opportunities prepare students for their careers in ways they never expected.