Potential non-harmful cancer drug discovered using femtosecond laser spectroscopy

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Using femtosecond time-resolved laser spectroscopy, researchers from the University of Waterloo in Canada have identified new molecules that kill cancer cells while protecting healthy cells, which could lead to a safer way of treating cancer.

The research and pre-clinical trial results were published this month in journal EBioMedicine

The most effective cancer drugs today may kill cancer cells, but they also kill healthy cells, causing severe side effects for patients in the process. For example, the chemotherapeutic Cisplatin, is an important, widely used platinum-based anti-cancer agent. Unfortunately, the inclusion of platinum in the molecule causes serious side effects like neurotoxicity, kidney damage, hearing loss, nausea and vomiting.

However, the Waterloo researchers were able to use a spectroscopic technique to discover a new class of non-platinum-based-halogenated molecules that kill cancer cells, yet prevent healthy cells from being damaged.

Femtosecond time-resolved laser spectroscopy involves using a laser to take a series of rapid ‘snapshots’ of molecules as they interact and change structure over time. The technique is part of a potential new field of science called femtomedicine (FMD), which integrates ultrafast lasers with molecular biology and cell biology.

Professor Qing-Bin Lu, from the University of Waterloo's Faculty of Science, has applied the method to understand the molecular mechanisms that cause cancer at the very moment when the DNA becomes damaged. He has also used it to investigate how radiation therapy and chemotherapy using chemical agents, in particular the widely used Cisplatin, work in treating a variety of cancers.

‘We know DNA damage is the initial step,’ said Professor Lu. ‘With the novel femtomedicine approach we can go back to the very beginning to find out what causes DNA damage in the first place, then mutation, and then cancer.’

By understanding more about the fundamental mechanisms of the diseases, Professor Lu pre-selected molecules most likely to be effective as anti-cancer agents. In this case, he discovered a new family of non-platinum-based molecules similar in structure to Cisplatin but containing no toxic platinum.

Pre-clinical studies with various cultured human cells as well as on rodents show that these new molecules are effective against cervical, breast, ovarian, and lung cancers.

‘It is extremely rare to discover anti-cancer agents that can selectively kill cancer cells and protect healthy cells, as well as being effective in treating many different types of cancer and having a novel molecular mechanism of action. These candidate drugs should have a high potential to pass through clinical trials and could ultimately save lives,’ said Professor Lu.

Professor Lu has already applied for patents on the new family of non-platinum-based-halogenated molecules that he has discovered and hopes to start clinical trials soon.


Credit:University of Waterloo

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