Oluwanifemi Owoseni is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Howard. Originally from Ekiti State, Nigeria, she earned a bachelor’s in pharmacy from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and is focusing on targeted delivery systems for the treatment of cancers.
Q: What does your research focus on?
A: Using prostate cancer as a model, my approach is to design targeted drug conjugates with the capacity to deliver multiple drugs to target multiple pathways, which is essential to resolve the resistance and toxicity challenges associated with cancer.
More specifically, multiple drugs are conjugated to protease sensitive linkers in the design of the drug conjugates. The free drugs are released only within the tumor microenvironment when the conjugates are exposed to proteases that are overexpressed in tumors. This ensures that the drugs are not released until it is activated proteolytically within the tumor microenvironment. This leads to selective targeting to tumor cells and minimizes off-target toxicity to healthy cells.
Q: How did you come to focus on cancer?
A: Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally. Cancer has been an ongoing medical challenge, especially with people of color who do not have access to excellent medical facilities. This leads to poor diagnoses such that the cancer is advanced before detection. My research focus seeks to develop treatment options for people of color with advanced and metastatic cancers, which cannot be treated using other options like radiation. In addition, my focus on prostate cancer stems from the disparities associated with the disease. African-American men have far greater incidence of new prostate cancers and are more likely to die from the disease than any other racial/ethnic group. The targeting and drug delivery approaches used for my research can be applied to any other type of cancers or disease condition that require selective drug delivery.
Q: What is something surprising you found in the course of your research?
A: Cancers have specific biomarkers. The development of drug delivery systems that target these biomarkers confers selectivity and specificity to cancer cells.
Q: Why is this research important to you?
A: One in two women and one in three men will develop cancer in their lifetime. These figures highlight that cancer is not rare but something a large part of the population faces at some point in their life. It’s fulfilling to know that my findings could contribute to the development of improved drug delivery platforms that will significantly improve efficacy and reduce the side effects that patients experience.
Q: What are your plans after you receive your doctorate?
A: My research in targeted drug delivery for prostate cancer has inspired me to apply these experiences to other cancers and diseases that require targeted therapy. In the future, I hope to deploy my talent in research and the development of targeted delivery systems in leading drug discovery and product development in academia, regulatory institutions and pharmaceutical industries.