Facilities at WSU Spokane help pharmacy researcher fight cancer

Since joining the WSU College of Pharmacy two years ago as a post-doctoral associate in the lab of Philip Lazarus, Joe Ashmore has been immersed in laboratory research involving tobacco smoke and lung cancer. His current project focuses on a metabolite of nicotine (NNK) that is the main carcinogen in tobacco smoke. NNK is not easily eliminated from the body, but if the body converts it to another metabolite (NNAL), it can be expelled.

Ashmore is looking at the genes that convert NNK to NNAL. The work is traditional laboratory research, which he enjoys, but on the horizon is a much larger project that involves data analysis with a powerful piece of research equipment. Ashmore will be analyzing a large collection of DNA samples with two new DNA sequencers being installed in the Genomics Research Core Facility on the WSU Health Sciences campus in Spokane. He will be using the machines to investigate cancers, in particular: lung, breast and colorectal. The “sequencer” spells out the DNA in a sequence of codes, and Ashmore will be isolating the two percent of each sample where the protein is coded. “Eighty-five percent of disease-causing variants are within that two percent of the genomic sequence,” Ashmore said, explaining the proteins are what the body uses to create and execute many body functions and forms. “We are hoping to identify variants in some genes involved with smoking,” Ashmore said.