Personal Stories

Dr. Philip Low, researcher

Dr. Philip Low,
Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry,
Purdue University

So much of science is serendipity. You begin work with one specific goal in mind and then have an accidental finding or unexpected result that takes your work in a new, previously unimagined direction. This kind of science thrives when you have a large collaborative scientific environment, like we have at the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research.

One of the most exciting avenues of cancer treatment that I’ve been pursuing is to develop methods to target drugs specifically to cancer cells and thereby avoid the collateral toxicity that normally occurs to healthy cells. In my lab, we’ve discovered that cancer cells have a much larger appetite than normal cells for the vitamin folic acid. We’ve exploited this avarice for folic acid to deliver chemotherapy selectively to cancer cells by linking the vitamin to a cancer drug that can kill the malignant cell. We then allow the cancer to “eat” the vitamin with its attached poison, using folic acid much like a Trojan horse to fool the cancer cell into internalizing a drug that will kill it.

We’ve had great success with this line of inquiry. Part of our success is attributable to working with scientists with such a tremendous diversity of skills and expertise as those that belong to the Purdue Center for Cancer Research.

Right now, there are six drugs that are undergoing human clinical trials for kidney, ovarian, lung and endometrial cancers, resulting either directly or indirectly from research my lab has done here at Purdue.