BALTIMORE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--In the spring of 1871, a young medical student named William Osler picked up a book at hand and read a line that had a great influence on his future – “The most important is to focus on what is clear at hand, instead of what is obscure at distance.” It was precisely this sentence that made William the most famous medical scientist of the time, who founded the world-renowned Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Nearly one century and a half passed, in the same Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, a Chinese name hit the medical circle for its major discoveries in anti-cancer and anti-aging research – Dr. Chunyu Zhang, a Chinese face that has brought hope for those haunted by the fear of cancer. His team studied the expression and function of the tumor suppressor gene RhoB, proved its vital role in maintaining the normal morphology and function of the respiratory system at the protein level. For the first time they discovered a novel mechanism of RhoB transcriptional activation and related signal transduction pathways. Furthermore, they use corresponding small molecules of plant nutrients to restore the expression and function of key tumor suppressors that have both anti-cancer and anti-aging effects in cancer cells and normal cells. Therefore, their research results target both anti-cancer and anti-aging solutions, which is expected to provide a joint answer to the dual global challenges.
Straight A Curve Wrecker? Not His Intention
For Chunyu Zhang, conquering cancer is an ambition since his youth. Just as the motto that inspired William Osler goes, he started with what was clear to him by studying biology and cancer, the clearest mission for him as an 18-year-old student.
When Zhang took the college entrance examination at 18, his adoptive father was diagnosed with lung cancer and his eventual death led Zhang to resolutely apply for the biology major of Beijing Normal University and begin his journey of exploring the mystery of human life. Zhang was a curve wrecker by birth, proved by not only his performance as a student but also work experience as a scientist.
Zhang later achieved outstanding results at the School of Graduate Studies, University of Science and Technology of China and Chinese Academy of Sciences. He also made stellar performance in the mid-term project review of the Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, when he was recommended a master-doctor combined program and allowed to finish the research project one year in advance and received multiple awards. Meanwhile, he was invited by two leading US institutes, MD Anderson Cancer Center and Yale University School of Medicine, for postdoctoral research. Therefore, Chunyu Zhang directly went to Yale University as a postdoctoral associate under the academician Sherman Weissman’s supervision without waiting to celebrate PhD graduation, and participated in the molecular tumor and development projects of the Boyer Center of Molecular Medicine. Dr. Zhang worked at the top-notch American universities and research institutes, such as Harvard Medical School and Harvard Institute of Medicine, National Cancer Institute, Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, before he joined the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, becoming the Principal Investigator of the Lung Cancer and Aging Program at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. As a pioneer among the American research universities, Johns Hopkins University was famous for its medical school which is considered a holy place for modern medicine.
“I didn’t intend to become a top student. I was simply attracted by the mysteries of life. Why is the development and implantation of embryos so similar to the growth and metastasis of tumors but the results are completely different? One is the beginning of life, the other is the end of life! Why does immortalization of cells become a precursor to individual death? Why is cellular senescence the mechanism of tumor suppression but also an important cause of tumorigenesis? The growing number of Chinese smokers and the rising incidence and mortality rates of lung cancer keep reminding me of my adoptive father, who suffered from bronchitis and asthma for years and eventually died of lung cancer. As a heavy smoker, his last words to me were ‘Never ever smoke!’. I have hoped to make a difference in cancer research and help relieve the suffering,” said Chunyu Zhang.
Fighting Cancer! A Life-long Business
Zhang feels that he is not the type of all-work-and-no-play student. It is the strong interests that makes him a happy learner. He says his style is not universal, and he could talk more about himself next time. But when it comes to cancer research, he becomes so eloquent. “Although cancer is known as a disease of death, it is not unavoidable. However, the risk for cancer rises year by year with age. Fighting cancer is like sailing against the tide on a long river of time. If you don't make progression, you will get left behind!”
The increasing age, the decline of human body functions, and various external factors have all contributed to the high incidence of cancer. Over the years, Dr. Zhang has produced a number of internationally leading research results in the fields of “Clock of Life” telomere and telomerase; Werner premature aging protein and DNA polymerase; nuclear encoded mitochondrial longevity mutant protein; aging-associated chronic inflammation, obesity and cancer biomarker FAT10; immunoregulatory factor gene expression and tissue localization; the key signal pathway for cancer and aging, PI3K/Akt/mTOR, and their inhibitors; gene expression changes during lung cancer progression and chemotherapy resistance and prognosis survival; DNA damage from cigarette smoking extract on airway epithelial cells; molecular mechanism of NOXA on pulmonary inflammation remission. Thanks to years of efforts, Dr. Zhang’s team finally achieved a breakthrough in cancer prevention and anti-aging.
“To put it simply, we identified for the first time an entire new mechanism of transcriptional activation of tumor suppressor gene RhoB, and accordingly found some novel anti-cancer small molecules. One of them consistently and efficiently induces protein expression of RhoB in various cancer cells such as lung cancer, brain tumor, and rhabdomyosarcoma, and inhibits proliferation, migration and induces apoptosis of cancer cells without excessive cytotoxicity. We further demonstrated that strengthening the expression of another important tumor suppressor gene PTEN, which is usually deleted or mutated in cancer cells, in normal cells can increase RhoB protein level through the same molecular mechanism. Moreover, we have found safe and effective methods not only in cancer cells but also in normal cells, restoring protein level of RhoB that is constantly and epigenetically down-regulated but functionally normal during canceration and aging. Therefore, we aim to reconstitute endogenous RhoB to eliminate malignant cells, while protecting normal cells, repairing DNA and stabilizing genome, and hope to ultimately achieve dual effects of suppressing cancer and prolonging healthy lifespan,” said Chunyu Zhang.
In order to speed up the translation of results, Dr. Chunyu Zhang established SanuLife Inc in Maryland, USA. Focusing on research and development of science-based biopharmaceutical products, boosting health management and self-cultivation performance. SanuLife aims to integrate high-quality resources and forward-looking technologies to provide one-stop, customized and intelligent health services that precisely address the physical and mental needs of users.
Over the years, Dr. Chunyu Zhang has published nearly 30 papers in international top journals and core specialized magazines, including the Mucosal Immunology under Nature and Cell Death and Disease of nature publishing group, the Cancer Research, Clinical Cancer Research and Molecular Cancer Therapeutics of the American Association for Cancer Research, as well as Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Genomics, Science Bulletin, and Cell, producing 128 cumulative impact factors and up to 1,600 citations. Zhang has applied for and participated in a host of research projects from the Chinese Natural Science Foundation, China’s 863 Program (National High-tech R&D Program) and Capacity Upgrading Program, Yale, Harvard, NCI/NIH, LRRI, and Hopkins.
Looking beyond, Dr. Zhang bluntly said, “I hope to make more progress in my cancer research, so that more people can live longer and healthier, and no longer suffer the pain my adoptive father has been through. This is my lifelong pursuit and cause.”