Nanoscience vs. Cancer

Mona Tayarani, Ph.D. candidate, Graduate Center, CUNYAmino acids are potent molecules. Just 20 of them make up all of the proteins in our bodies. And researchers, like Graduate Center Ph.D. candidate Mona Tayarani (Chemistry), are finding ways to rearrange these chemical compounds into structures — known as peptides — that can be used to fight cancer and other diseases.

Tayarani is one of six Ph.D. students working in the lab of Professor Rein Ulijn (GC/Hunter, Chemistry), who directs the Nanoscience Initiative at the Graduate Center’s Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC). She came to the U.S. from Iran because, she said, “America has the highest rank in the field of chemistry, with the best facilities and advanced instruments for research.”

At the ASRC, Tayarani has been designing a peptide that may be useful in delivering anticancer drugs to tumor cells. In normal cells, the peptide has a spherical shape and can encapsulate poorly soluble chemotherapy medications such as doxorubicine. When the peptide encounters tumor cells, it takes on a fiber structure, meaning that the peptide will release the drug in the tumor cell.  

Another promising development is a series of peptides that glow in different colors when exposed to ultraviolet light. By observing how these peptides interact with cancer cells, researchers can learn more about the disease. The next step is investigating how the peptides can help treat cancer and other disorders.

Long interested in medicine, Tayarani knew she wouldn’t be a good doctor. “I never enjoyed dissecting animal organs or taking and testing blood samples back in high school,” she said. Instead, she grew interested in the chemistry of the body — learning about abnormalities and discovering ways to treat disease. “So, I decided to study chemistry with the purpose of medical application,” she said.

Tayarani has found a mentor in her advisor Ulijn, whom she describes as an outstanding researcher and supportive advisor. “Working in his group really feels like having a big family here in the U.S.,” she said. “We have 20 people with at least 11 different nationalities.”

Diversity, affordability, and the lure of fast-paced New York City drew Tayarani to the Graduate Center and The City University of New York. “In New York City, you are surrounded by successful people, and the culture is to work hard, which is important to me.”

Tayarani says the caliber of research at the ASRC is on par with “that of the prestigious private universities in the city.” She cited collaborations with leading hospitals and schools — Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Weill Cornell Medicine, and Columbia University.

“It feels like the ASRC is a hub for high end science where technology meets medicine,” she said. “It is also very cool to live and study in the greatest city on Earth.” 

Submitted on: DEC 12, 2017

Category: Chemistry | General GC News | Student News