Cantley discusses new leads in cancer treatment and novel mechanisms controlling cancer cell metabolism

Author: Shadia Ajam

Lewis Cantley, Nieuwland Lecture

The Nieuwland Lecture Series and Department of Biological Sciences recently hosted Lewis Cantley, the Margaret and Herman Sokol Professor and Director of the Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medical College & New York Presbyterian Hospital, for two presentations about his cancer research.  

During the presentation, “Targeting PI(3)K for Cancer Treatment” on Monday (Feb. 24), Cantley described research resulting from his $16.5 million Stand Up 2 Cancer (SU2C) grant from the American Association for Cancer Research . Cantley and his team discovered the phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K) pathway and how it can signal and promote cancerous cell growth. Although there are drugs that exist to inhibit the PI3K pathway, there is still no way to tell of telling which tumors will respond to these inhibitors. Through the funding afforded by the SU2C award, Cantley’s research group is currently conducting clinical trials examining the efficacy of treating patients with PI3K inhibitors in combination with other chemotherapeutics. Cantley presented the initial results from these trials which demonstrated that PI3K inhibitors can have remarkable efficacy in certain types of cancer when paired with types of chemotherapy.

During Tuesday’s (Feb. 25) lecture, “Cancer Metabolism,” Cantley explained how a subset of breast cancers express high levels of type 2 phosphatidylinositol-5-phosphate 4-kinases α and/or β (PI5P4Kα and β). He also discussed how PI5P4Ks play a critical role in a breast cancer that tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2-positive) and p53-defective breast cancers. Cantley concluded his talk with a discussion about how suppression of PI5P4K expression results in enhanced reactive oxygen species (ROS) and cellular senescence and how PI5P4K inhibitors could be effective in treating cancers with mutations in TP53.

Cantley obtained a Ph.D. in biophysical chemistry from Cornell University in 1975.  Prior to taking the position at Weill Cornell, he taught and did research in biochemistry, physiology and cancer biology in Boston, most recently at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School. Cantley was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1999 and to the National Academy of Sciences in 2001.  Among his other awards are the ASBMB Avanti Award for Lipid Research in 1998, the Heinrich Weiland Preis for Lipid Research in 2000, the Caledonian Prize from the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2002, the 2005 Pezcoller Foundation–AACR International Award for Cancer Research, the 2009 Rolf Luft Award for Diabetes and Endocrinology Research from the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, the 2011 Pasrow Prize for Cancer Research and the 2013 Breakthrough in Life Sciences Prize.

The Nieuwland Lecture Series was established in 1943 by Rev. J. Hugh O’Donnell, C.S.C., president emeritus of Notre Dame, as a permanent memorial to the late Rev. Julius A. Nieuwland, an alumnus and professor. A listing of past Nieuwland lectures is available on the College of Science website.