Synthetic molecules to spice up fight against cancer

August 18th, 2008 - 5:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 18 (IANS) Scientists using a spice-based compound developed synthetic molecules that, in lab settings, are able to kill cancer cells and stop them from spreading. Researchers are combining organic chemistry, computer-aided design and molecular biology techniques in developing and testing pharmaceutical compounds that can fight breast and prostate cancer cells.

The synthetic molecules are derived from curcumin, a naturally occurring compound found in turmeric (haldi).

Centuries of anecdotal evidence and recent scientific research suggest curcumin has multiple disease-fighting features, including anti-tumour properties. However, when eaten, curcumin is not absorbed well by the body.

Instead, most ingested curcumin in food or supplement form remains in the gastrointestinal system and is eliminated before it is able to enter the bloodstream or tissues.

“Newer evidence describes how curcumin interacts with certain proteins to generate anti-cancer activity inside the body. We’re focusing on the pathways that are most involved in cancer and trying to optimise for those properties,” said James Fuchs, assistant professor of medicinal chemistry at Ohio State University and principal investigator.

Fuchs described a selection of the 40 compounds developed to date, emphasising the synthetic molecules that appear to have the most potential to serve as the basis for anti-cancer drug development.

Fuchs and colleagues are continuing to refine compounds that are best structured to interact with a few overactive proteins that are associated with cell activity in breast and prostate cancers. Blocking these molecular targets can initiate cell death or stop cell migration in the cancers.

“Very small changes that may seem insignificant can have dramatic effects on these toxicity properties,” Fuchs said. “But most of the compounds we’ve made have been more potent than curcumin against the cancer cells.”

Fuchs presented the research on Sunday at the American Chemical Society meeting in Philadelphia.

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