Even after 60 years of deciphering and manipulating hormones in the body in research that won him a Nobel Prize, Dr. Andrew V. Schally’s eyes still light up and he perches on the edge of his seat as he talks about his latest breakthrough.
“To me, it’s the thrill of the discovery,” said Schally, 87. “It’s very rewarding.”
The winner of the 1977 Nobel Prize in Medicine will be the keynote speaker today for Graduate Research Day at Georgia Regents University.
He is collaborating with three GRU researchers on pneumonia, retinopathy and kidney damage from diabetes. They are but a few of the astounding number of collaborators in various diseases that range from cancer to diabetes to Alzheimer’s disease to helping the heart heal after a heart attack.
Schally is the chief of the Endocrine, Polypeptide and Cancer Institute at the Veterans Affairs medical center in Miami and the Distinguished Leonard M. Miller Professor of Pathology and Professor in the Division of Hematology/Oncology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He has worked with the VA for more than 50 years and it is helping those patients that drives his work.
“I am very interested in helping veterans,” Schally said.
His work has already helped to improve the treatment of hormone-dependent prostate cancer, and for the last couple of decades he has worked on compounds that either mimic or block the effects of a growth releasing hormone, which appears to be involved in a number of different systems in the body. For instance, in cancer, compounds that appear to block the effect of the hormone have been tried on human cancer cells in mice models.
“We demonstrated in about 60 models of major cancers there is a powerful inhibition of tumor growth,” Schally said.
Compounds that stimulate the hormone’s receptors also appear to help block the swelling and damage in the lungs from diseases like pneumonia, which is a collaboration between Schally and Dr. Rudolf Lucas at GRU.
“One of the outstanding successes was the excellent work of Dr. Lucas in the prevention of edema in pneumonia,” Schally said. “The first one was the heart. Then we also showed improvement in wound healing and diabetes. There’s no cure for diabetes. Insulin is not a cure.”
That’s a particular concern because of the high percentage of patients who use the VA who have diabetes, Schally said. It has also been shown to help the survival of insulin-producing islet cells from the pancreas, he said. Schally is also exploring treating Alzheimer’s disease and his compounds might also prove useful for other ailments. One breakthrough seems to lead to another and that is what keeps him going.
“You make a discovery,” Schally said. “This is why I haven’t retired. I can’t retire. I am forbidden to retire because it would be a crime. It would be stupid and even criminal not to try and explore and exploit that discovery.”
And ultimately, he hopes, help more patients.