Research Beat: Dr. Raman Bahal’s work in cancer therapy

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Professor Raman Bahal in his lab at the School of Pharmacy. Bahal has been named a recipient of a UConn-AAUP Excellence Award for Excellence in Research and Creativity. April 6, 2021. Sean Flynn/UConn Photo

University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy professor Dr. Raman Bahal, alongside graduate students, has been conducting research on new strategies to inhibit microRNA  and tumor growth in types of cancer, according to a UConn Today article.  

Professor Bahal, who holds a doctoral degree in nucleic acid chemistry, is currently working with graduate students Karishma Dhuri and Shipra Malik on this project, focusing on lymphoma and glioblastoma, cancers in the lymph nodes and brain respectively.  

RNA, or ribonucleic acid, is a molecule similar to DNA, but serves to aid in the creation of proteins in the cell. MicroRNA, often referred to as miRNA, will regulate messenger RNA, called mRNA, from producing too many proteins. 

“The miRNAs that are overexpressed in cancer are called ‘oncomiRs.’ These 

oncomiRs are responsible for the proliferation of cancer cells,” Dhuri, a third-year graduate student with a degree in pharmaceutical science from the University of Mumbai, said.  

The most common oncomiR in lymphoma is designated as oncomiR-155, which Dhuri and Bahal target with synthesized nucleic acids like PNA-155 that can inhibit miRNA and cause lymphoma cell death. Experimentation with mice has shown cells showed higher numbers of gene suppression. 

Bahal’s work uses similar strategies for glioblastoma in collaboration with professor Mark Saltzman, who holds a doctoral degree in medical engineering at Yale University. Here, he works with Shipra Malik, a PhD candidate with a bachelor and master’s degree from Delhi University. Unlike lymphoma, two different oncomiRs can be targeted. The PNA containing nanoparticles must be injected directly into the brain tumor, which rapidly extends the subject’s survival. 

“The particles stay in the mice’s brain for more than two weeks, and the method is very successful,” Shipra said. “Mice, given our PNA nanoparticles along with regular cancer treatment, can survive longer than the mice only given standard treatment or no treatment at all.”  

Both researchers encourage undergraduates to get involved in research with professors, whether to pursue future career opportunities or to learn more about fields of interest. 

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