When it comes to the history of medical research, Tuskegee’s name is often associated with the infamous Tuskegee Experiment (Syphilis Study). Today, by contrast, Tuskegee University is taking the lead in using medical research to serve the African American community. World-class scientists and researchers are furthering research that targets to improve the health and well-being of minority populations. In a series of stories, we intend to feature the work of our scientists. In the present story, we introduce Professor Balasubramanyam karanam, a leading scientist who studies common cancers in the black community and targets to develop drugs for them.
Professor, scientist, and advocate are just a few words that tell of Balasubramanyam Karanam’s continued involvement in cancer research. Dr. Karanam’s education and career have revolved around cancer research for over a decade. Dr. Karanam completed a bachelors’ and a Masters’ in Chemistry at Sri Sathya Sai University in India, a PhD in Chemistry at Bangalore University, and a Postdoc at Johns Hopkins University.
Dr. Karanam’s active cancer research followed him to his teaching at Tuskegee University’s Department of Biology and the Center for Cancer Research. “My work specializes in digital pathology and genomics in identifying the biological pathways leading to health disparities in cancer,” stated Dr. Karanam. His research at Tuskegee identified Quadruple Negative Breast Cancer, a subtype of breast cancer that is more aggressive in black women. After identifying the new breast cancer subtype, Dr. Karanam efforts were concentrated on finding out possible drug targets. By using The Cancer Genome Atlas data, his team identified that ADRM1, a ubiquitin receptor that helps in protein degradation is differentially expressed among races. In other words, they found out why some cancers are more aggressive among certain races including African Americans. It was the same target on which Karanam and his colleagues published in 2013, a cover page article in the high impact journal Cancer Cell for the identification of a specific small molecule RA190 that inhibits ADRM1. RA190 showed good efficacy in the animal models of ovarian cancer and multiple myeloma. It is currently in phase 1 clinical trials for multiple myeloma patients which African Americans disproportionately suffer from as well. RA190 is currently patented by Johns Hopkins University in which Dr. Karanam is one of the inventors. Up Therapeutics LLC is a small molecule developing pharmaceutical company in Maryland currently working on second generation molecular designs on RA190 like molecules. Up Therapeutics LLC contacted Dr. Karanam to evaluate their new analogs in new subtype breast cancer models at Tuskegee University. In collaboration with Dr. Karanam at Tuskegee University, Up Therapeutics received a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant award. This is the first STTR grant awarded to Tuskegee University.
“I am an active researcher in The Prostate Cancer Transatlantic Consortium (CaPTC), an open consortium comprising of a team of prostate cancer scientists, clinicians, survivors, and advocates from North America, Europe, the Caribbean Islands, and West Africa to address the globally disproportionate burden of prostate cancer among Black men,” says Dr. Karanam, as certain cancers are more prominent in non-white individuals. Karanam was a big part of bringing African American and West African cancer samples to Tuskegee University’s Department of Biology and the Center for Cancer Research. As a scientist, Dr. Karanam has published over 45 research papers and authored 14 international patents. Dr. Karanam’s passion for understanding and sharing his knowledge of cancer drives him to research, teach, and campaign about cancer.
Cancer research is a major area of study, populated by many scientists and doctors from around the world today. Dr. Karanam has been a steady rock in the fight against cancers that continue to significantly affect millions around the world, specifically African Americans. His decades of research has led to significant contributions and professional recognitions. Dr. Karanam is the man who chose to fight cancer for others.