'LEGO-Like' building blocks to halt cell growth wins Hebrew University prize



Hebrew University Ph.D. student Nir Qvit in his laboratory.
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A method for delivery of drugs to targeted cells through the design of specific molecular structures called SIB (Small Integrated Building Blocks) has won a prestigious scientific prize for a Ph.D. student in organic chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Jerusalemite Nir Qvit, 34, will be one of those receiving the Kaye Innovation Award on June 13, during the 69th meeting of the Hebrew university Board of Governors.

Qvit has shown through his research that it is possible to greatly increase drug delivery efficiency by designing specific molecular structures made up of known pharmaceutically effective peptides (small protein molecules) that are attached to tailor-made, geometric-like structures called "scaffolding."

Each scaffold is specifically designed to combine the peptides in such a way that they will form an effective medicinal combination and so that they will bind to the receptors of specific targeted cells. Qvit refers to his process as somewhat analogous to building different kinds of structures through the use of LEGO.

Qvit, a student of Prof. Chaim Gilon of the Department of Organic Chemistry, has shown, for example, that with a particular combination of peptides and scaffold design, it is possible to create a synthetic molecule that will bind to the IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor-1) receptor. IGF-1 is a protein that plays a critical role in the proliferation of many cancers, including prostate, lung, breast, colon and brain cancers. The binding action of the molecule to the receptor inhibits the activation of the IGF-1 protein in the cells, thus halting the cancerous growth.

Through this process of "combinational chemistry," involving peptides and scaffold design, Qvit says that many different types of molecules can be built that will reach specifically targeted cells, offering hope for treatment of not only cancer, but other diseases as well, without harming healthy cells.

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The Kaye Innovation Awards have been given annually since 1994. Isaac Kaye of England, a prominent industrialist in the pharmaceutical industry, established the awards to encourage faculty, staff, and students of the Hebrew University to develop innovative methods and inventions with good commercial potential which will benefit the university and society.


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