Undergraduate research targets cancer with diabetic drug

Biochemistry sophomore Sarah Sullivan has accomplished many goals in her young collegiate career, including a cancer research project. In just two short years at The University of Tulsa, she has investigated the use of diabetic drugs to cure cancer, received an adventurous internship opportunity in another country and attended the American Chemical Society annual conference.

cancer researchAlthough Sullivan grew up in the college town of Fayetteville, Arkansas, she chose TU because of its interactive relationship between professors and students.

“At TU, you have the ability to ask a professor about anything —just go talk to them,” she said.

Sullivan began working in a research laboratory her freshman year through the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC), using metabolic inhibitors to target cancer cells. She combines an anti-diabetic drug typically used to treat Type 2 diabetes with the glycolytic inhibitor to target the metabolism of tumor cells.

“The goal of this research is to get a clinical trial in which we can use this combination of a really safe, widely used drug to treat cancer,” Sullivan said.

Her connection to the research is personal, because Sullivan was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic at the age of 14.

“My whole life has revolved around the process of drug discovery and medical research,” she said.

Sullivan’s project has changed her perspective on what she’d like to pursue as a career. Originally, she planned to attend medical school, but now she is considering a future in medical research. This summer, she is studying the biophysical techniques used to characterize a membrane transport protein at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany.

Other travel opportunities she’s embraced as a TU undergraduate researcher include attending the American Chemical Society’s annual meeting, held in April in San Francisco.