Fabian Grimm’s commitment to cancer research was recognized with an award for the best (bio)chemical thesis – by a college student – in the Netherlands in 2009. Grimm, a first-year Ph.D. student in the University of Iowa’s human toxicology interdisciplinary graduate program, received the annual Gouden Spatel (Golden Spatula) from the Royal Dutch Chemical Society in April.
His thesis titled, “The antineoplastic efficacy of the dihydroartemisinin (DHA) in combination with ionizing radiation under normoxic and hypoxic conditions in-vitro” reported research results he discovered while conducting his graduation project at the Institute of Cell Biology (Cancer Research) at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany.
“To have conducted the best research in the whole year in the whole country is a unique thing,” Grimm said. “I think it was related to my motivation in that research. It was six months of full-time work. I was so excited about the results that I spent at least 10 hours a day in the lab during the final weeks.”
Grimm and his fellow researchers sought out to find a compound that is effective against radioresistant cancer cells under hypoxic conditions. Under these conditions, cells are deprived of adequate oxygen supply.
Classical chemotherapy and radiation therapy often do not affect these hypoxia-resistant cells due to an increase of cellular survival mechanisms and the inability to form oxygen radicals, so the treatments are less successful. Oxygen radicals are highly reactive oxygen intermediates that readily react with cellular macromolecules.
DHA, which is already in clinical use as an anti-malarial agent, is known to induce radicals. Using radioresistant human colon cancer cells, Grimm discovered that DHA is still effective under hypoxic conditions, even though to a lower extent than under normoxia.
“Since the beginning of my undergraduate studies, I have been interested in cancer research. The particularly special point about this research is that it’s related to clinical issues,” Grimm said. “I thought this would be a good starting point for good research.”