A drug that kills cancer cells, spares others

March 4th, 2008 - 11:29 am ICT by admin  

Washington, March 4 (IANS) It has not exactly been the medical equivalent of the hunt for the holy grail, but scientists have for long been looking for a drug that kills cancer cells and spares healthy ones. And the goal appears within sight. People get cancer because a protein called p53 - which is supposed to suppress tumours - is not doing its job. About half the time, this is because the gene that holds the protein is mutated or missing altogether.

The rest of the time, another protein, called the human MDM2, is the culprit. It binds to p53 and inhibits its tumour suppressor function, promoting cancer development.

For over a decade, scientists have been searching for ways to block the inhibition of the p53 protein - but in vain.

Now, researchers at the University of Michigan say they have designed a small molecule, called MI-219, which effectively blocks interaction between the MDM2 and the p53.

MI-219 specifically kills tumour cells by harnessing the power of p53. In animal models of human cancer, MI-219 completely inhibited tumour growth and appeared to cause no toxicity to animals.

If clinical trials bear out these results, the drug could potentially treat many different types of cancer, say the authors of the study, the findings of which have been published in online edition of the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.

“MI-219 is unique in that it is designed to activate p53 without causing DNA damage, specifically killing tumour cells. Indeed, it is highly effective in inhibiting tumour growth and even inducing regression, but it has caused no toxicity to animals at efficacious doses,” said researcher Shaomeng Wang.

Besides these plus points, MI-219 can be developed as a oral pill, rather than traditional chemotherapy that must be given intravenously.

“MI-219 needs to be evaluated in human clinical trials for safety and efficacy for cancer treatment since it is a brand new drug,” Wang cautioned.

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