Brussels, 29 Mar 2005
A team of Irish scientists from St James's Hospital and Trinity College in Dublin are developing a new drug that kills cancer cells without harming healthy ones.
The researchers are currently carrying out trials on a prototype that could cure leukaemia by preventing cancer cells from growing. If successful, the new drug could also be used in the fight against other cancers.
'The tests have not been fully completed, but the results so far are very promising,' said Mark Lawler from St James's Hospital, who is coordinating the study. 'It could be a major breakthrough in the treatment of leukaemia and other cancers. What we have found to date is that [the drug is] targeting specific pathways [and] the leukaemia cells are being driven into cell death. It appears to block the cell growth cycle and essentially stops the cells from growing. What is exciting from a research perspective is the level of collaboration between different medical and scientific disciplines,' added Professor Lawler.
When the drug is first administered, it affects all cells but as the treatment stops, healthy cells will continue to grow while cancer cells go into a cell death process and 'commit suicide'.
The project partners have also discovered that the drug, based on a protein that regulates cell growth, stops leukaemia cells from developing resistance to chemotherapy drugs, a major problems in cancer therapy.
The protein was discovered by scientists from King's College, London, who asked the Dublin team to investigate its possible effect on cancer cells. While the team in Dublin checked the drug against leukaemia cells, the London team examined it against cultured breast cancer cells. In both cases the result was the same: the protein destroyed the cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.
The findings of the study will be presented at an international conference on cancer in Dublin on 31 March.