Campus: CSU Northridge -- August 6, 2004
CSUN Chemistry Professor On a Quest To Defeat Breast Cancer
Cal State Northridge chemistry professor Gagik Melikyan was in the middle of
an illustrious two-decade career in organic and organometallic chemistry when,
two years ago, his life changed. At a Santa Barbara conference on breast cancer,
it became clear to him that his expertise could be applied to the detection and
possible cure of the disease.
After spending time with breast cancer survivors and devastated victims, Melikyan
wrenched himself away from pure academics and entered the field of medicinal
"When you meet these people, you understand it is better to publish one or two
papers less in order to save human lives," he said.
Melikyan embarked on a twofold mission. One goal is to create an early detection
method for breast cancer that will not require expensive medical equipment.
The other is to develop a new generation of organic compounds able to slow down
tumor growth and to kill cancer cells "without significant damage to a human body."
Melikyan's compounds will travel inside the body and convert into an active
cancer-killing mode "at the right time, in the right place."
His mission is shared at Northridge by computational chemist Pogban Toure and a
small corps of "devoted, motivated and highly capable" students who conduct
experimental work under Melikyan's direction.
"In our laboratory," the chemist said, "there is a constant sense of urgency since
the students understand that by developing much better, more efficient and less
toxic therapeutic means, we can potentially save thousands of human lives."
His team has developed samples that are highly effective against breast and lung
cancer cells, but there is a bottleneck: their further development requires
additional funding and exhaustive biological testing.
"Unfortunately," he said, "the cost for these tests--mostly run by private
companies--is quite prohibitive." To test one compound over a period of two weeks
can cost from $15,000 to $20,000, and Melikyan has from seven to ten compounds
"waiting in the refrigerator right now."
With an infusion of funds, he estimates that the early detection compounds could
be achieved "within a year or two maximum." Completion of work on the cell-killing
compounds, however, requires time-consuming Food and Drug Administration approvals,
clinical trials and toxicological testing. Without private monies, those hurdles
will be difficult to jump.
The author of 66 papers and reviews--his work recently landed him in the pages of
the globally influential Chemical and Engineering News--Melikyan believes it will
happen. "We have to do whatever is humanly possible to save these people."
Cal State Northridge's College of Science and Mathematics is home to several
nationally recognized programs where students gain valuable experience through
hands-on work using the latest technologies and equipment. Students also have an
opportunity to co-author publications with faculty members, present their research
results at national and international meetings, and prepare for teaching careers.
Contact: Carmen Ramos Chandler, (818) 677-2130,