Hollings researcher's upcoming TEDxCharleston talk to explore exciting advances in cancer research

February 23, 2022
Steven Rosenzweig, Ph.D., practices his upcoming presentation on the TEDxCharleston talk stage. Photo by Clif Rhodes

It’s not every day that a possibly life-changing discovery is made in a lab. For MUSC Hollings Cancer Center researcher Steven Rosenzweig, Ph.D., an accidental lab discovery led to an amazing finding that he will present at an upcoming TEDxCharleston event.

A grassroots initiative, TEDx features local speakers who share “ideas worth spreading,” bringing the spirit of the international forerunner TED – technology, entertainment, design – Talks to local communities around the globe. This year’s TEDxCharleston will be held in person on March 23, at the Charleston Music Hall, from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m.

Rosenzweig will be joined by an Olympian, a former professional athlete and other influential community members at the event.

Rosenzweig’s passion for cancer research stems from personal loss from the disease. His mother died when he was just 9 years old, and his father died 10 years later. Ever since, Rosenzweig has been focused on research that would lead to better outcomes and survival for cancer patients. “Losing both parents in such a short time period was devasting,” he said. “I wouldn’t want anyone to endure that kind of pain.”

As associate director of Shared Resources at Hollings, Rosenzweig has had the opportunity to work with a wide array of Hollings cancer scientists, who are in the lab diligently looking for a cure to cancer. What is fascinating, in addition to the science, is the creativity and perseverance that they bring to the tasks, which he’ll be exploring in his talk.

Steven Rosenzweig, Ph.D., practices his presentation for the upcoming TEDxCharleston talk. Photo by Clif Rhodes 
Steven Rosenzweig, Ph.D.

The goal of the TEDx Talk is to use easily understandable language to convey complex scientific terms and be able to make a speech understandable to an eighth-grade audience; this is something that Rosenzweig has found challenging, given the scientific nature of the subject. Speakers are all assigned two TEDx coaches. In addition to individual rehearsals and practices, speakers spend at least one hour a week with their coaches to prepare for their speeches.

“The biggest hurdle is toning down my language to be nonscientific, and that's been an uphill battle,” Rosenzweig said. “I'm talking about a scientific project, and it's really a challenge not to use your typical words in that discussion.”

That said, he wants to foster interest in science in an accessible way. Rosenzweig will be speaking about insulin-like growth factor, also known as IGF, which plays a pivotal role in development from birth to adulthood. But Rosenzweig said IGF also can help to fuel and facilitate tumor growth.

His talk will cover an accidental discovery in his lab that resulted in new findings involving an IGF1 inhibitor that led to a precision drug delivery system. Rosenzweig will be describing how new drugs, new treatment strategies and drug delivery systems are helping to move cancer from a death sentence to a chronic disease. He also plans to explain how nanotubes, a drug delivery tool, can be loaded with chemotherapeutic drugs that can be used to target cancer cells.

“I’m planning to tell the story of a novel scientific discovery, which led to something that may have benefit to cancer patients,” Rosenzweig said.

Part of the story involves capturing the beauty of how science happens.

Rosenzweig, along with other researchers, was trying to develop an inhibitor to block the growth of cancer cells. One of the proteins they were using in their studies had a mistake in it, and that mistake led to a unique discovery that gave researchers a new way of delivering drugs to tumors. Some drugs, for instance, don't penetrate the brain, and Rosenzweig is exploring the idea that these drugs could be loaded into the nanotubes and targeted to the brain.

Clinical studies will not likely start for another few years, but Rosenzweig believes that this discovery could lead to advances in treatment for pancreatic and brain cancer as well as dementia.

“Everyone should embrace the unexpected, as things don't always go the way you anticipate or expect. You have to be prepared for that, and that requires perseverance,” Rosenzweig said. “It puts a smile on my face to say that all the work leading up to that discovery was essential and part of a collaborative discovery.”

Tickets to the TEDxCharleston in-person event are sold out, but those wishing to attend virtually can register online. Videos of the discussions will also be made available online at a later date.