Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

A new target for cancer drug development

18.06.2013
Researchers believe the 'undruggable' may be druggable

Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) researchers have identified in the most aggressive forms of cancer a gene known to regulate embryonic stem cell self-renewal, beginning a creative search for a drug that can block its activity.

The gene, SALL4, gives stem cells their ability to continue dividing as stem cells rather than becoming mature cells. Typically, cells only express SALL4 during embryonic development, but the gene is re-expressed in nearly all cases of acute myeloid leukemia and 10 to 30 percent of liver, lung, gastric, ovarian, endometrial, and breast cancers, strongly suggesting it plays a role in tumor formation.

In work published in the New England Journal of Medicine, two HSCI-affiliated labs — one in Singapore and the other in Boston — show that knocking out the SALL4 gene in mouse liver tumors, or interfering with the activity of its protein product with a small inhibitor, treats the cancer.

"Our paper is about liver cancer, but it is likely true about lung cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, many, many cancers," said HSCI Blood Diseases Program leader Daniel Tenen, who also heads a laboratory at the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore (CSI Singapore). "SALL4 is a marker, so if we had a small molecule drug blocking SALL4 function, we could also predict which patients would be responsive."

Studying the therapeutic potential of a transcription factor is unusual in the field of cancer research. Transcription factors are typically avoided because of the difficulty of developing drugs that safely interfere with genetic targets. Most cancer researchers focus their attention on kinases.

The HSCI researchers' inquiry into the basic biology of the SALL4 gene, however, revealed another way to interfere with its activity in cancer cells. The gene's protein product is responsible for turning off a tumor-suppressor gene, causing the cell to divide uncontrollably. Using this knowledge, the researchers demonstrated that targeting the SALL4 protein with druglike molecules could halt tumor growth. "The pharmaceutical companies decided that if it is not a kinase and it is not a cell surface molecule, then it is 'undruggable,' " Tenen said. "To me, if you say anything is 'undoable,' you are limiting yourself as a biomedical scientist."

Earlier this year, Tenen's co-author, HSCI-affiliated faculty member Li Chai, a Harvard Medical School assistant professor of pathology at Brigham and Women's Hospital, published a paper in the journal Blood, reporting that a SALL4 inhibitor has similar treatment potential in leukemia cells.

Chai took blood samples from patients with acute myeloid leukemia, treated the leukemic cells with the inhibitor that interferes with SALL4 protein activity, and then transplanted the blood into mice. The result was a gradual regression of the same cancer in mice.

"I am excited about being on the front line of this new drug development," Chai said. "As a physician-scientist, if I can find a new class of drug that has very low toxicity to normal tissues, my patients can have a better quality of life."

Chai and Tenen are now working with HSCI Executive Committee member Lee Rubin, the Harvard Institute of Chemistry and Cell Biology, and James Bradner of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, another HSCI-affiliated faculty member, to overcome the technical challenges of drug development and demonstrate the potential of SALL4 interference to treat other forms of cancer.

"I think as academics, we seek to engage drug companies because they can do these types of things better than we can," Tenen said. "But, also as an academic, I want to go after the important biologic targets that are not being sought after by the typical drug company — because if we do not, who will?"

The basic research that explored the biology of SALL4 was financed by a 2007 seed grant from HSCI, with more recent funding provided by a Singapore Translational Research Award from the Singapore National Medical Research Council, and grants from the Singapore Ministry of Education and National Research Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health. Kol Jia Yong, Chong Gao, and Henry Yang, among others, contributed to this work.

B. D. Colen | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.harvard.edu

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Collagen nanofibrils in mammalian tissues get stronger with exercise
14.12.2018 | University of Illinois College of Engineering

nachricht New discoveries predict ability to forecast dementia from single molecule
12.12.2018 | UT Southwestern Medical Center

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Data use draining your battery? Tiny device to speed up memory while also saving power

The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.

Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...

Im Focus: An energy-efficient way to stay warm: Sew high-tech heating patches to your clothes

Personal patches could reduce energy waste in buildings, Rutgers-led study says

What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...

Im Focus: Lethal combination: Drug cocktail turns off the juice to cancer cells

A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.

The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...

Im Focus: New Foldable Drone Flies through Narrow Holes in Rescue Missions

A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.

Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...

Im Focus: Topological material switched off and on for the first time

Key advance for future topological transistors

Over the last decade, there has been much excitement about the discovery, recognised by the Nobel Prize in Physics only two years ago, that there are two types...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

ICTM Conference 2019: Digitization emerges as an engineering trend for turbomachinery construction

12.12.2018 | Event News

New Plastics Economy Investor Forum - Meeting Point for Innovations

10.12.2018 | Event News

EGU 2019 meeting: Media registration now open

06.12.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Data use draining your battery? Tiny device to speed up memory while also saving power

14.12.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Tangled magnetic fields power cosmic particle accelerators

14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

In search of missing worlds, Hubble finds a fast evaporating exoplanet

14.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>