Yehia Mechref, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Texas Tech University, was recently awarded a $1.2 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). “My program here at Texas Tech University uses mass technology to look at biomolecules and works to understand how their structure correlates to their function and biological makeup,” said Mechref. The biomolecules that interest Mechref are glycoproteins, sugar-adorned proteins that are on cell membranes for communication with other cells and for protection against pathogens and viruses.
“These glycoproteins are very challenging to analyze,” said Mechref. “This challenge makes the research very interesting in my opinion. The fact that not many people are working in this area has been the reason why I want to develop more methods to look into how we can analyze these molecules.” Specifically, Mechref is studying glycoprotein composition and how the specific arrangement of glycoproteins on the outside of breast cancer cells allows the cells to spread into the brain. Research in collaboration with Quentin Smith and Paul Lockman from the university has shown that some cells are able to pass the blood brain barrier while others cannot, possible as a result of glycoprotein signatures. The end goal of the investigation is to alleviate the fear that cancer can never be eradicated, despite cancer treatment.
Another goal for Mechref includes empowering his mentees: “I’m in academia because I want to be able to pass on my knowledge and then see where the people I have taught go.” Mechref and his students are able to conduct their research because of grants such as those from CPRIT, which awards $3 billion in bonds to researchers in Texas. Said Ellen Read, CPRIT communications specialist, “We want to position Texas as a world-class leader in research and prevention.” Mechref’s grant will indirectly help other researchers understand the molecules in cells. “There are a lot of roles these molecules play, and we’re told that by both what we know and don’t know,” he said. “The fact that we can look at these and understand their molecular contributions means we will be able to understand their biological contributions.”