Fighting multiple myeloma
Dr. Victoria Palau leans over the microscope. She spins the dials a few times and they come into focus—little round blobs floating in a petri dish.
The cells are multiple myeloma, a cancer that degrades bone. It starts, innocently enough, in a type of white blood cells from the immune system called plasma cells, which help people fight infections.
Palau, an associate professor at East Tennessee State University Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy who specializes in cancer research, has a long history of testing plant-derived compounds to determine their impact on different types of cancer. This new fight against multiple myeloma, however, began after she received funding from a local donor this spring.
“The research is urgent,” said Palau. Scientists all over the world are working as quickly as Palau to make headway on a cure or, at the very least, new treatment options.
Palau said that her work in cell signaling and plants, specifically her practice of working with new methods and treatments, helped make her proposal for the funding more appealing.
“I look at all the options,” said Palau. “Cancer cell signaling is very complex; dysregulation has to be addressed from different angles. Thus, we are trying to find additional therapeutic methods that may offer better disease management or in the best case, a cure.”
Of course, she’s not working alone.
Palau has a team of 8-10 pharmacy students every semester who help her work in her lab in Stanton-Gerber Hall.
“It’s a good experience for them because what they’re doing provides an opportunity to solve a complex problem that has not been published anywhere,” said Palau, “It’s great for developing reasoning and critical thinking. If they have a question, they have to find the answer themselves and learn how to look things up. They have to run an experiment in order to answer it, and they come up with creative answers.”
She also works with a colleague, an organic chemist from Palau’s home country, Colombia, who has dedicated his life to identifying compounds extracted from plants that can be used medicinally. He collects the plants from the Andean region and takes them to a botanical garden to be properly identified.
And these special plants don’t just come from the rainforest.
Palau recently was sent plants with purported anticancer properties from Pikeville, Kentucky, that she is in the process of testing. Palau started her cancer research with plants when she came to ETSU in 2007.
Interprofessional teamwork is something that Palau strongly believes in doing. She works with physician
Dr. Koyamangalath Krishnan in the ETSU Quillen College of Medicine, who treats cancer patients and has his own team of student researchers. “I always tell my students how important it is to talk with physicians and learn their clinical insight on the characteristics of a particular disease,” said Palau.
“All of us, in some way, have been touched by cancer,” said Palau. “We all know someone who has fought cancer or is going through that fight right now. Putting a little piece of information out there that might make a difference—that is really important to me. There are thousands of people working on cancer all around the world. As long as we keep working on it, we’re bound to make strides.”