Each day in the lab, Greg Oakley works to find a way to improve chemotherapy.
"Most chemotherapy works by damaging DNA and killing that manor. The problem is its hard to select the good cells from the cancer cells," said Oakley.
Oakley is studying how good and bad cells are damaged by chemo.
The University of Nebraska Medical Center researcher is focused on a protein called Replication Protein A, or RPA.
Researchers believe RPA helps repair healthy cells.
The American Cancer Society awarded Oakley a $720,000 grant last fall to move his research forward. It will be used over the course of four years.
"We've identified a few inhibitors that when added to cells that are growing in the lab it kills the cancer cells more selectively than healthy cells," said Oakley.
Oakley and his associate researcher Jason Glanzer are working their way through 1,300 chemicals from the National Cancer Institute.
They're trying to find if any of the drugs prevent two proteins that repair cells, from interacting with each other.
"And we know from different research we've done that if you prevent that from happening then cancer cells cannot repair their DNA once it's damaged... and then it dies, "said Glanzer.
Glanzer says if they can find a drug that does this well, it could greatly improve chemotherapy.
In the last three to four months, Glanzer and Oakley say they've made small progress.
"Right now we've tested a third of them and we have a few good hits or compounds that at least at the bench appear to inhibit this interaction and may be good in mice or some other testing that we can do," said Glanzer.
Oakley said their progress could be "very significant" if they test in mice and move up the clinical chain, but that he said, could take quite a while.
For now, the two are thrilled to have the opportunity to do the research.
The work is personal for both men.
Glanzer's six-year-old daughter, Abby, has battled a recurring brain tumor.
The two used Glanzer's personal experience with cancer and chemo to write their grant.