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Potential General Cancer Treatment Discovered


The highly prestigious journal Nature reported that a team of researchers from five Swedish universities, led by Karolinska Institute and the Science for Life Laboratory, have identified a new way of potentially treating all cancer cells. The concept is based on inhibiting a specific enzyme, called MTH1, which all cancer cells require for survive, unlike normal cells. Without this enzyme, the double-stranded DNA chains in cancer cells suffer deadly breaks.  The research break though is a first in finding a potential treatment that could destroy every type of cancer cell.

Thomas Helleday, holder of the Söderberg Professorship at Karolinska and head of the study, said: “To accelerate the development of this treatment principle and to proceed with clinical trials in patients as quickly as possible, we are working with an open innovation model. Even before publication, we have sent out MTH1 inhibitors to a range of research groups worldwide.” 

Given the enormous financial rewards for developing a “silver bullet” to treat cancer, the willingness to share the research with other scientists in countries that may have different patent rules is unheard of.  For decades, billions of dollars have been made on developing anti-cancer drugs that target specific genetic defects in different types of cancer cells.  Although the treatments may show initial success, cancer cells by their nature are rapidly mutating and usually can build defenses to the targeted drug therapy.

Currently, drug treatments usually try to kill all the cancerous and non-cancerous cells in a specified region of the body.  But in the current study, the researchers found a general enzymatic activity that all cancers tested rely on and that seems to be independent of the genetic changes found in specific cancers.  The research team showed that all the investigated cancerous  tumors need the MTH1 enzyme to survive. Since cancer cells differ from normal cells which do not need this enzyme; a drug treatment that interferes with MTH1 should be able to be inserted in the body and attack where cancerous cells that have spread or are still hiding in unobservable quantities.

Helleday expounds that “MTH1 sanitizes the oxidized building blocks, preventing the oxidative stress to be incorporated into DNA and becoming DNA damage.”  This is science speak for explaining how cancer cells are really able to divide and multiply.  When an MTH1 chemical inhibitor is introduced, the cancerous cells are blocked from growing and then self-destruct.  He adds: “Finding a general enzymatic activity required only for cancer cells to survive opens up a whole new way of treating cancer.”

The scientists from the five Swedish universities have already produced a potent MTH1 inhibitor that has selectively killed only the cancerous cells in the tumors that have been surgically removed from skin cancer patients.

Dr Roger Olofsson Bagge, a surgeon at the University of Gothenburg stated: “When we saw that the tumor from one of my melanoma patients who has developed resistance to all the current treatment actually responded very well to the treatment, we were extremely happy.  It’s rare that you get to experience and witness such a breakthrough.”

There is a lot of work ahead to understand the mechanism and develop even more selective inhibitors before clinical trials can begin, according to Helleday.  But after about another year of research and two years of clinical trials, a general treatment for all types of cancers may finally be available for the first time.

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The post appeared first on Chris Street.

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