30 April 2022

Pharmacy PhD Candidate James Chakiris in the Laboratory

James Chakiris

PhD Candidate at UniSA
Recipient of the Dr Terry Farquharson Pharmacy PhD Top-up Scholarship

Dr Terry Farquharson B.Pharm., M.B.B.S., M.App.Sci., FACSP

Master of Applied Science in Pharmacy
Dr Terry Farquharson Pharmacy PhD Top-up Scholarship

Prostate cancer is the fifth leading cause of male cancer death worldwide.

The most common treatment strategy is called androgen deprivation therapy, but this treatment can often lead to the development of another form of prostate cancer – castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) – which has a mortality rate of five-years for 30% of those diagnosed with it.

UniSA PhD Candidate James Chakiris has embarked on a project that endeavours to develop a drug to target a specific protein in prostate cancer that will help prevent the formation of CRPC.

“I always had a passion for chemistry that I wanted to pursue,” says James, who started the project in mid-2021.

James Chakiris working in the laboratory
James at work in the laboratory

The project sees James work his way through a list of drugs to find which one will best target this protein.

“I’ve made about 13 of the proposed 23 drugs so far, so once I finish this, we will move onto testing them in cells in a biological setting to see whether or not the drugs are effective.

A great deal of this project looks at uncovering new findings, as very little research has been done into targeting this protein in humans.

“The drugs that we are currently making are also very new – they have never been trialled in a human or an animal for that matter,” says James.

The specificity of the drug is also crucial, as the more specific the drug is, the less side effects patients are likely to experience throughout treatment.

“Your body is full of targets. If it’s a very general drug, then one can get off-target effects. So, you may have a more general drug that you are using for prostate cancer, and while it goes into the prostate, it also goes into other parts of the body and cause side-effects,” says James.

“With our drug, we aim to make it more specific to reduce those off-target effects but also reduce the severity of the prostate cancer too.”

“It wouldn’t be used as a sole therapeutic, it would be used alongside other current prostate cancer therapies.”

James is the recipient of the Dr Terry Farquharson Pharmacy PhD Top-Up Scholarship, a new scholarship established by UniSA Alum Dr Terry Farquharson.

Donor, doctor and pharmacist Dr Farquharson graduated from Pharmacy in 1968 and tutored in the Pharmacy School for a few years after. He then went on to pursue medicine and spent the rest of his career working as a medical practitioner.

Dr Farquharson now gives generously to the university and has awarded undergraduate scholarships in the past, but this is the first PhD scholarship he has been involved in.

“It’s a pretty academically challenging research project, and it has really quite significant potential benefits for the general community,” says Dr Farquharson, when reflecting on James’ research.

Dr Terry Farquharson at his Pharmacy graduation in 1968
Dr Terry Farquharson at his Pharmacy graduation in 1968

“Life’s about taking one’s opportunities. My parents gave me an opportunity to be educated and I was lucky enough to win a Commonwealth Scholarship to study Pharmacy at the then South Australian Institute of Technology, now UniSA. That was over 50 years ago now, and I had a fulfilling career in Pharmacy and Medicine. Many capable young people may not get such an opportunity, and as I believe education is the greatest gift that you can give, I hope providing a scholarship will help at least a few achieve their ambitions.”

Dr Farquharson knows the power of education, and, most importantly, hard work, and does his best to pass this onto students like James.

“Hard work is the most important thing. You may have to slog year after year but it’s worth it in the end. I try and impress that upon the students I cross paths with and make them aware that if you do put the yards in, you’ll have a great career,” says Dr Farquharson.

“I get a great deal of joy from meeting these young students starting out in a situation I was in 50 years ago.

“If I was going to speak to myself in hindsight, I’d say I’m glad you worked hard because it was worth it.”

Dr Farquharson’s scholarship – a donation of $15,000 – will assist in many facets of James’ project, particularly in networking, materials, and financial security for James.

“These funds will help me make connections with other researchers through attending conferences and travelling to meet other working in similar areas of research. Having the ability to attend those conferences and meet those people will help me broaden my research,” says James.

“I’m making a lot of these drug compounds, and some of the more sophisticated ones cost a little bit more, so having that breadth to expand out those drugs and try different things that no one has ever tried before comes from that donation. This gift enhances our ability to make a really great drug for prostate cancer.”

The fact that James, a current UniSA PhD student, is being supported by Dr Farquharson, UniSA Alum, in a project that could develop at targeted treatment for prostate cancer, highlights the power one gift can make.


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