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February 13, 2014

CSU chemistry professor earns award for innovation

By Travis Raymond

Dr. Anthony Berdis won Cleveland State University’s first Faculty Innovation Fund award with his proposal, “Diagnostic Kits to Quantify Pro-Mutagenic Replication in Hyperproliferative Diseases,” which will advance cancer treatment using diagnostic technology.

Hyperproliferative diseases such as cancer are caused by error in gene replication. The error in replication is often in response to a chemical or non-chemical mutagen. A mutagen is an agent that causes mutation in genes. This diagnostic technology will help early detection and quantification of the mutagenic replication in cancerous cells.

“Dr. Berdis’ research is expected to lead to more efficient diagnostic tests for oncologists, which in turn will improve patient outcomes,” said Dr. Conor McLennan, the interim associate vice president for research.

In treating cancer, oncologists currently lack the tools to gauge from the outset the best chemotherapeutic drug for a patient.  When an oncologist prescribes a therapeutic agent to a cancer patient, the doctor does so without knowing if the cancer cells will be resistant to the drug.

“If it doesn’t work, then they have to go through and try a variety of different drugs,” Berdis said.  “If we can test that person initially, or their cancer cells, through a biopsy, to see if they respond favorably to a certain drug, that would give the clinician a head start in determining what therapy to apply."

Using a diagnostic kit of Berdis’ design, an oncologist could test a cancer patient and administer the correct chemotherapeutic agents from the outset. Berdis is confident his lab will have a prototype diagnostic tool up and running within the timeframe given, 12 months.

“We plan on interacting with the various hospitals in the area, Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Metro Health, to get patient samples that we can then use as validation of our kit,” Berdis said.  “We also plan to help develop a prognostic indicator for the patients undergoing chemotherapy.”

Berdis described the selection process for the award as arduous with a number of intricate steps involved, but said he was ecstatic to learn his proposal had been selected.
Aside from advancing cancer therapy in itself, Berdis also considers the commercialization of his diagnostic kits a practical step in advancing his research.  He has developed a new therapeutic agent called 5 Endosine, a nucleoside analog very effective against a certain form of leukemia. The compound requires a thorough series of tests to ensure its safety.

“It’s about $300,000 to get the animal safety studies done before we can even talk to a clinician about a clinical trial with humans,” Berdis said.  “If we can develop a diagnostic kit, we’d be able to take the money we make from the kit and apply it to animal studies to develop the therapeutic agent.”

The Office of Research introduced the new award to facilitate the development of patents here at Cleveland State and encourage faculty to compete for research funding from outside the university.

“The Selection Committee recognized Dr. Berdis’ experience and qualifications were strong,” McLennon said.  “Dr. Berdis presented a well-developed commercialization strategy, and his project has real potential for high impact in research and innovation and the ability to attract new external funding to CSU.”

According to Berdis, the diagnostic kit’s future beyond prototype stage is open, but promising.

“If another larger company wants to buy our technology and they can develop it further and spread it nationwide or globally, that would probably be what we would do,” Berdis said.  “If we can’t get a company interested in it, my colleagues and I would try to develop a company here in Cleveland to produce the diagnostic kit and then market it and sell it.”

Berdis is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, a member of Cleveland State’s Center for Gene Regulation in Health and Disease (GRHD), and co-founder of Red5 Pharmaceuticals, LLC.  Berdis’ research is currently funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.