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University of Iowa researcher's discovery could lead to cure for all cancers

The University of Iowa's Biology Building East is home to groundbreaking research in the realm of cancer. (KGAN)

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KGAN) - As many scientists move away from a one-size-fits-all approach for cancer cures and delve into specific remedies for specific diagnoses, researchers at the University of Iowa are making strides that may lead to a "magic bullet" to address all cancerous tumors.

David Soll, a professor of biology at the University of Iowa, has spent the past half-century studying cells.

Recently, his focus has shifted to cancerous cells, with two primary motivators - the amount of people the disease affects and his personal connection to cancer.

"One-quarter of everybody dies from cancer and cancer is the one we can't handle," said Soll, pointing to heart disease as something science is capable of addressing.

Soll lost his wife, Michele Morice, in 2010 after a battle with astrocytoma (a cancerous brain tumor).

He strives to keep his personal and professional life separate as part of the nature of the business, comparing thinking of his wife while working with fighting while angry.

"Keeping my deceased wife out of my mind when I do this is keeping my head clear," said Soll, "because if you make it personal, you can't do science. It's like if you're in a fight and you lose your temper, you're going to lose that fight."

The university's cancer research efforts ramped up in 2012, with Soll's team recently making its most significant finding.

"We discovered a mechanism where tumors formed by cells and aggregates being pulled together by specialized cells," said Soll, who noticed the behavior with both melanoma and breast-tissue cells.

Given the university's status as the nation's antibody resource bank - Developmental Studies Hybridoma Bank - researchers have a bevy of potential cures at their disposal.

"We have 5,500 antibodies," said Soll. "That means we have 5,500 potential drugs and because we are the bank, we have an infinite amount of every one of them ... Antibodies cost $350 to $700 a milligram, and I've got 5,500 and I've got 500 milligrams to 1,000 milligrams on the shelf of every single one of them."

After discovering the similar formation of tumors between melanoma and breast cancer cells, researchers began testing antibodies on the cells to determine if they could stop the coalescence of tumor formation.

Soll said his team now has four potential drugs or drug-like antibodies up to the test.

"We've taken three different melanomas and we've tested it against them and all four worked," said Soll, "so we're starting to think that we might find a magic bullet for a lot of cancers."

The university also has access to one-of-a-kind 3D imaging software containing 3.3 million lines of code, which allows researchers to determine how the tumors form.

Soll said he's optimistic about preventing rapid metastasizing through continued research.

"I really believe and we're sticking to that [magic bullet] strategy, which is completely unaccepted by the [scientific] community," said Soll. "But it doesn't matter because they don't have to review my grants because I'm self-funded at the University of Iowa."

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