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David John Adams

Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine
Medicine, Medical Oncology
1700 Ferrell Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27517
1700 Ferrell Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27517


A major ongoing challenge in cancer therapy is development of selective chemotherapeutics that can eradicate tumors with little or no side effects to the patient. Most of our current arsenal of anti-cancer drugs was developed to simply target replicating cells. Thus, while these drugs do kill tumor cells, they are also toxic to normal replicating cells in the body, such as those found in the bone marrow and in the lining of the intestines. Recent advances in tumor biology indicate that the environment surrounding tumor versus normal cells is different and can be exploited to improve anti-cancer drug selectivity. Specifically, solid tumors have a defect in metabolism of glucose that leads to the secretion of lactic acid. This forms an acidic microenvironment and accompanying pH gradient in tumor cells that is not present in normal cells. Our laboratory, in collaboration with investigators at Duke, Research Triangle Institute International, the National Cancer Institute, and DEKK-TEC, Inc. are developing analogs of the plant toxin, camptothecin, that are selectively active at acidic pH. To date, we have identified six such compounds, one of which is highly fluorescent and can be quantified by external biosensors to permit study of tumor pharmacokinetics and pharmcodynamics in situ in real time. This agent has remarkable activity in a pre-clinical model of pancreatic cancer and is currently being advanced to IND status for subsequent biomarker-based clinical evaluation. In addition to solid tumors, we collaborate with clinical oncologists in the Duke Division of Cell Therapy on translational research in leukemia and lymphoma. In particular, we are interested in optimizing combination chemotherapy regimens for established and novel drugs in stem/progenitor models of acute myelogenous leukemia. The overall objective is to move drug discovery and development toward more clinically relevant models that can help bridge the "valley of death" - barriers that currently limit translation of laboratory advances into clinical utility for cancer patients.

Current Appointments & Affiliations

Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine · 2013 - Present Medicine, Medical Oncology, Medicine
Affiliate of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society · 2014 - Present Duke Science & Society, Initiatives

Education, Training & Certifications

University of Nebraska, Omaha · 1979 Ph.D.
University of Nebraska, Omaha · 1979 Ph.D.