Making Chemotherapy a better treatment

As it stands, one in three men and one in four women will battle cancer in their lives.

Dr. Yaorong Zheng came to the Kent Campus in August 2015, and has turned a lab in Williams Hall into a place where answers — and hope — may soon be developed for cancer patients the world over.

Zheng comes from China, where he studied at Peking University in Beijing. Following that, he obtained a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Utah, and spent four years doing his postdoctoral research at MIT, where he began to focus on cancer.

“When I graduated, I really wanted my research to be useful and apply to the problems in the world,” he said.

Doctors have few weapons in their arsenal for combating cancer. One is chemotherapy, and that’s where Zheng applies his focus.

Some of the most common chemotherapy drugs are based on platinum, including cisplatin — a drug approved by the FDA in 1979, that took testicular cancer from a rampant killer to a disease with a now 90-percent-plus survival rate.

However, as Zheng points out, all chemo drugs have common drawbacks: they produce nasty side effects and they can be inefficient. Platinum has a half-life of only 20 minutes in the body and is often rendered inactive when it binds with some proteins in the blood. Worse still, patients treated with chemo often suffer relapses.

“Our research is developing new platinum structures and delivery systems to overcome these problems,” Zheng said.

Zheng’s team is working on chemistry for a platinum (IV) “pro-drug” approach, that doubles the oxidation state of cisplatin to stabilize it. The new form adds two variable molecules to the structure, which protects the platinum in the bloodstream, increases its life, and allows it to get into the cancer cells, where it will revert to its original chemical structure to attack the disease more effectively. It would also be easier to synthesize the drug with the new formula, Zheng said.

“We can tune them to achieve our specific goals or to target different aspects of cancers.

About the Researcher

Yaorong Zheng earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry at Peking University in Beijing, China, in 2006. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Utah in 2011, then spent four years conducting postdoctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Zheng is from Guangdong Province, in southern China. He and his wife, Michelle, just welcomed their first son, Austin, in January. More details about his work are available on his website.

For more information on Kent State Research, contact Dan Pompili, at 330-672-0731 or