A pharmaceutical sciences PhD student at the University of Kentucky (UK), Sherif El-Refai is a translational researcher focused on immuno-oncology in lung cancer at the university’s Markey Cancer Center. To compliment his oncology pharmaceutical practice, Sherif El-Refai conducts research on lung cancer treatment, prevention, and diagnosis.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Every year, it kills more people than colorectal, prostate, and breast cancer combined. The best way to prevent lung cancer is to stop smoking. For those who smoke regularly, lung cancer screening is recommended to detect the cancer early and to reduce the risk of lung cancer death.
UK’s lung cancer screening program was designed for persons at risk of developing lung cancer. These include seniors older than 55, people who smoke or have recently quit smoking, and people who have been smoking a pack or more fa day or over 30 years. The screening uses a computed tomography scan to reveal suspicious cancerous spots in the lungs. Patients diagnosed with the cancer are referred to the university’s Markey Cancer Center, where a multidisciplinary team of medical care givers will commence treatment.
Sherif El-Refai focuses his work on experimental and clinical interventions. Sherif El-Refai currently works within the University of Kentucky’s Black lab, where researchers use gene expression to develop targeted cancer treatments.
In March 2017, researchers at Rockefeller University announced the development of an intervention that may reduce tumor growth by regulating gene expression. The research centers on proteins known as histones, changes to which may activate or deactivate a gene. Reader proteins within the cell then bind to the altered histone and facilitate activity of the gene.
Cancer researchers have already identified a type of reader protein known as the BET protein, which can inhibit tumor growth. The new discovery from the research team at Rockefeller University involves a type of protein that has similar potential to the BET protein but that shares a particular feature known as a YEATS domain. Like the BET protein, a protein with the YEATS domain binds to histones affected by a chemical mark known as an acetyl group.
Although the relevance of this particular functionality is as yet unknown, researchers do know that proteins with the YEATS domain may fuse with the MLL protein in certain patients with leukemia. Researchers tested this function by deleting a YEATS domain protein known as ENL from leukemia cells in mice, who had a significantly improved prognosis following the transplant of ENL-depleted proteins.
Researchers are now working on developing combination therapies that combine YEATS domain blockage with existing drugs that work as bromodomain inhibitors. The hope is to further explore the potential of YEATS domain blockers not only in leukemia but also in cancers of other types.
A researcher at the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Pharmacy’s Black Lab, Sherif El-Refai studies how gene expression affects a person’s response to cancer therapy. Outside of his role as a researcher, Sherif El-Refai treats patients as an oncology pharmacist at the UK Markey Cancer Center.
In addition to offering cutting-edge cancer treatment, the Markey Cancer Center provides a wide range of support services to help patients cope with both physical and emotional pain. The center’s support services include nutrition planning, psycho-oncology services to treat anxiety and depression, art therapy, support groups, and palliative care at UK HealthCare.
The Markey Cancer Center also features a Jin Shin Jyutsu program, through which practitioners use gentle touch on targeted parts of the body to restore harmony to the body’s energy system. All of the center’s cancer patients receive five free sessions with a practitioner of this ancient healing art.
Also offering integrative medicine, or complementary medicine, the Markey Cancer Center combines traditional medicine with the use of mind-body practices and natural products. The center’s integrative medicine offerings range from acupuncture and massage therapy to hypnotherapy and relaxation techniques.
To learn more about the Markey Cancer Center and its cancer support services, visit UKHealthCare.uky.edu.
A graduate of the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy, Sherif El-Refai conducts research on lung cancer at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy. Sherif El-Refai concurrently serves as an oncology pharmacist at the University of Kentucky (UK) Markey Cancer Center, which has received recognition from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
The UK Markey Cancer Center stands out as the only cancer center in the state of Kentucky and one of just 69 centers in the country to receive the coveted NCI designation. The honor recognizes cancer centers that have demonstrated excellence in laboratory and clinical research as well as behavioral and population-based studies.
NCI-designated cancer centers have access to exclusive clinical trials and new drugs and treatments. The designation also provides the Markey Cancer Center with an additional $2 million in funding per year and the opportunity to recruit some of the top medical students and faculty from around the world. The Markey Cancer Center also can collaborate on cancer research with other NCI-designated centers throughout the country.
A PhD candidate at the University of Kentucky (UK), Sherif El-Refai focuses his studies on clinical and experimental therapeutics. Sherif El-Refai also works as an oncology pharmacist at UK Hospital’s Markey Cancer Center, which published an article in early 2017 advocating for vaccination and screening to prevent cervical cancer.
Markey Cancer Center offers screenings for a variety of cancers, including cervical cancer. Unfortunately, Kentucky has one of the highest rates of cervical cancer incidence and death in the United States. These are grim statistics, especially given that cervical cancer can be prevented by vaccination and regular screening.
Virtually all cervical carcinomas are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). At some point, most sexually active women get HPV. However, only 5 to 15 percent develop cervical pre-cancer, and even fewer develop cervical cancer. Regular use of tobacco and birth control pills, among other factors, increase the risk of developing the cancer.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends all 11- to 12-year-old girls and boys receive the HPV vaccine via two does spaced six to 12 months apart. Vaccination should be followed later in life by regular cervical cancer screenings.
Cervical cancer often does not exhibit any symptoms until its advanced stages. According to Markey Cancer Center, getting vaccinated and following up with regular screenings is the best way to prevent cervical cancer.
A committed oncology pharmacist, Sherif El-Refai works at Markey Cancer Center at University of Kentucky Hospital. In addition to handling those responsibilities, Sherif El-Refai is studying for his doctorate in pharmaceutical sciences at the University of Kentucky, where he also conducts lung cancer research.
Oncology pharmacists are professionals tasked with designing and implementing drug treatment plans specifically for patients with cancer. They perform a key role in caring for cancer by monitoring the dosing of powerful drugs, such as chemotherapy medications. They also interact with patients to ensure they understand the treatments administered to them.
These pharmacists have access to all information on cancer patients’ medications, including medications for other conditions they may have. They use that knowledge to alert patients to possible drug interactions that could lead to negative side effects. Additionally, some cancer patients struggle to remember to take their medications regularly, resulting in poor outcomes. Pharmacists support patients by providing checklists and other strategies to ensure timely dosing.
A graduate of the University of North Carolina with a PharmD, Sherif El-Refai also holds a master of business administration from the University of Florida. Sherif El-Rafai has leveraged his training to serve as an oncology pharmacist at the University of Kentucky Hospital’s Markey Cancer Center.
In addition to providing cancer care services, the Markey Cancer Center offers cancer screening. The only National Cancer Institute-designated center in Kentucky, the Markey Cancer Center collaborates with research groups and healthcare providers to improve cancer education and prevention across the state.
The center’s screening program tests for breast, lung, cervical, colorectal, skin, prostate, and ovarian cancers. The center advises individuals to talk to their physician regarding the appropriate age to begin screening, which varies according to each individual’s personal health and family history of cancer.
The Markey Cancer Center provides free screening for individuals who meet certain requirements. People who may qualify for free screening include those between the ages of 50 and 80, the uninsured or underinsured, and those with a household income less than 200 percent of Federal Poverty Guidelines.