A group of scientists have taken a typically lethal chemical from sea bacteria and altered it for use as a likely weapon against colon cancer.
For years, research has targeted biological substances for help in combating different forms of cancer. In fact, approximately half of anti-cancer drugs are derived from natural substances. For the most part, these compounds are found on land.
However, a group of scientists from the University of Florida have found some success in treating colon cancer using an altered, usually lethal chemical released from bacteria – living in the sea.
“Sometimes nature needs a helping human hand to further optimize these products of evolution to treat human diseases,” says Hendrik Luesch.
Dr. Luesch is an associate professor of medicinial chemistry at the University of Florida’s College of Pharmacy and a member of the UF Shands Cancer Center.
He and fellow colleagues modified a compound known as apratoxin S4; a chemical derived from a class of apratoxins found in marine cyanobacteria. Apratoxins typically aid as a form of defense for cyanobacteria to ward off enemies.
Because of this information, Luesch and colleagues hypothesized that this type of defense may be useful in targeting cancer cells as well.
The UF scientists created several types of apratoxin that differed in their make-up from its natural form; one in particular was found to be extremely effective against treating mice with colon cancer in low and high doses. In fact, this chemical stopped tumor growth without producing any toxic side effects.
The new compound, apratoxin S4, works by preventing cancerous cells from producing chemicals that will help their growth. These are known as growth factors and tyrosine kinases.
Although much more work is in store to test this chemical, the potential to use other compounds from these bacteria is also likely.
“Marine cyanobacteria produce a huge diversity of compounds,” remarks Luesch.
Luesch goes on to note that because most of the Earth – 70 percent – is composed of water, the chance to find other potential cancer-fighting compounds at sea is highly likely.
Dr. David J. Newman, chief of the National Cancer Institute’s Natural Products Branch states, “Luesch has found a novel compound and novel mechanism of action that stops the secretion of the receptor and the growth factor. If nothing else, he has shown us a new way to kill tumor cells and has revealed a new chemistry, and those are important steps.”
The study was described today in ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters.