Stanford scientists adapt antiviral treatments to take down cancer
Through a mix of advanced science, lateral thinking and a little good fortune, researchers at Stanford University have developed new drugs that proved effective in halting the growth of cancer cells in early experiments. The breakthrough springs from pioneering work in the field of antiviral medicine, with scientists taking lessons learned there to intervene and shut down the spread of tumor cells in mice.
Virologists at Stanford had been working to develop new treatments for viral diseases such as hepatitis and the common cold. Their approach was to halt the processes that enable viruses to replicate by targeting the cellular processes that they hijack in order to grow and spread. In 2015 they found success, demonstrating an antiviral treatment capable of preventing hepatitis D from creating new copies of itself in patients, along with an ability to attack enterovirus 71.
Their successes caught the eye of an oncologist at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center by the name of Jonathan Kurie, who was researching ways to slow or prevent the spread of different cancers. What piqued his interest was the fact that the same cellular processes the Stanford scientists had been able to shut down were also known to play a role in the spread of cancer, or metastasis. And by the time he caught wind of it, the Stanford team's technology had improved even further.
“I told him we had much better molecules now, and we have known for a long time that they would also work in cancer,” says Jeffrey Glenn, professor of medicine and of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University.
These molecules have now been put to the test in mice and returned some impressive results. In one experiment, the team implanted human cancer into one mouse lung and observed how often it spread to the second lung, with the drug tested reducing the occurrence of this metastasis.
Another drug tested produced no metastasis at all, while both drugs also caused the tumors in the first lung to shrink in size. In experiments on human breast cancers in mice, tumors shrunk in half after just one week of treatment with the drug. While still early days, the scientists hope that these findings can form the basis of a new class of drugs that more effectively apply the brakes to cancer.
“We’ve been working for many years on potent drugs that we had shown were important for viruses,” says Glenn. “This is just an important target that hasn’t really been appreciated in cancer, and we had the perfect drugs to get this started.”
The research was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Source: Stanford University