UNC Professor’s Research Could Lead to Cancer Drug

Preliminary results from research conducted by University of Northern Colorado Professor Stephen Mackessy show promise in creating drugs from snake venoms to treat and limit the spread of breast, colon and skin cancers.

Mackessy recently earned a $50,480 bioscience grant from the Colorado Office of Economic Development & International Trade to further test and analyze using purified compounds found in snake venoms in anticancer drugs. His lab is one of a few worldwide conducting biochemical analysis of venoms from a select group of "harmless" rear-fanged snake species.

If the results hold up under further evaluation, there is potential for developing drugs specifically for treating breast, colon and skin cancers. These cancers lead to more than 100,000 deaths in the United States alone annually, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It's Mackessy's second such award from the state office. In 2007, he was awarded a $53,260 bioscience grant for the project. The current award will allow specific testing and characterization of promising venom compounds which were identified during the previous project.

The latest grant will also provide support for undergraduate and graduate students to work on the project. In addition to research, Mackessy teaches several vertebrate biology and biomedical courses in Biological Sciences at UNC and serves as the Faculty Fellow for Undergraduate Research in the Center for Honors, Scholars and Leadership.