DO-PhD student’s cancer research shows promising results


Helping patients gain valuable time with loved ones is the major reason why sixth year D.O.-Ph.D. student at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, Lyndsey Reich, wanted to become a researcher and a physician.

Reich’s father was involved in multiple clinical trials that extended his life by about 10 years, which allowed her to see the immediate impact research can have for patients. Remembering the important gift of time her father received while participating in trials during his illness prompted her to choose the path of medicine and research.

She wants to provide that same hope and time to others.

Reich is excited and hopeful for the possibilities that will result from her team’s research on rexinoids, a class of drugs which activates the nuclear receptor RXR. Targeting nuclear receptors has proven to be a fruitful area of research for cancer treatment – tamoxifen, which targets the estrogen receptor, is highly effective for the treatment of estrogen receptor positive breast cancer. Their research is specifically focused on the V-125 rexinoid, published in the January issue of Scientific Reports, which showed a reduction in tumor growth in preclinical models of breast and lung cancer.

However, she and MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine Pharmacology and Toxicology Professor Karen Liby, senior author, are careful not to over promise. “Drug discovery is a long process which takes many years from initial discovery to FDA approval for use in patients,” Liby explained.

Earlier studies of bexarotene – the only rexinoid to date which is FDA approved for the treatment of cancer – showed it reduced tumor burden. However, bexarotene also increases triglycerides. The goal of the rexinoid project in the Liby lab is to develop more effective rexinoids without the side effects.

The team has screened several rexinoids for anti-inflammatory activity. The results are promising. The V-125 rexinoid reduces tumor growth in preclinical models of breast and lung cancer beyond the reduction seen with bexarotene treatment and without the increase in triglycerides.

How rexinoids work is now the team’s focus. “That’s a big question and there is not just one answer,” Reich explained. Their current work focuses on changes seen in gene expression, particularly genes that are relevant to the function of the immune system. “We’re seeing a lot of changes with rexinoid treatment, which indicate that we’re teaching immune cells how to target cancer cells,” Reich said.

“We’re getting to the point where we see light at the end of so many tunnels,” she added.

What this means is that while the research team is interested in treating cancer because that is how the drug would first be used, they also want to determine if the V-125 rexinoid can be used to prevent cancer in high-risk patients.

The hope is to advance one of these rexinoid compounds and start clinical trials in patients within the next five years, Liby explained.

The Liby lab is part of the Michigan State University Applied Immunology Center for Education and Research (AICER) whose mission is to “discover new immunotherapies for use against autoimmune disease, cancer and infectious diseases.” AICER was initiated in the College of Osteopathic Medicine and spans multiple departments and colleges at MSU.