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Drug tackles dormant cancer cells

21 February 2014 09:50

Clinical trials were carried out in vivo as well as in vitro

Clinical trials were carried out in vivo as well as in vitro

A new drug which selectively kills dormant cancer cells has been tested by scientists.

The molecule works by inducing dysfunction in mitochondria - the powerhouse of cells.

The research, conducted by Prof Stig Linder of the Swedish Karolinska Instituet and Uppsala University, found that a small molecule named VLX600 has been proven ineffective in killing dormant colon cancer cells in a variety of models, including in clinical trials and in test subjects with the medical condition.

Experts say that in solid tumours larger than a few millimetres, a lack of oxygen and nutrients is common as a result of insufficient growth in the blood vessels. This can cause cancer cells to remain dormant - and even after they receive treatment, they can divide, causing tumours to grow. This process helps cancers resist radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

The study shows that in these tumour areas that lack oxygen and nutrition, there is a lack of mitochondrial energy production for which the cancer cells cannot compensate. The researchers said: "Our ?ndings suggest that tumour cells in nutritionally compromised microenvironments are sensitive to disturbances of mitochondrial function, resulting in a bioenergetic catastrophe."

The VLX600 molecule was found to cause this dysfunction in mitochondria, causing colon cancer cells to die. When the substance was tested on colon cancer cell lines in vivo, it suppressed tumour growth. The molecule also helped boost other anti-cancer drugs, such as irinotecan.

The study leaders said: "Our ?ndings suggest that tumour cells in metabolically compromised microenvironments have a limited ability to respond to decreased mitochondrial function, and suggest a strategy for targeting the quiescent populations of tumour cells for improved cancer treatment."

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