In many cases, one of the most troubling things about a tumor is its resilience. Tumors can be very hard to completely eradicate, often leaving behind some trace from which they can regrow. We saw an example of this in last week’s blog, where a bioresearcher from Cincinnati discovered a way to prevent breast cancer tumors from leaving behind stem cells. Now a research team from the University of Wisconsin, Madison presents a molecule that can detect and treat tumors of several more types of cancer.
The molecule is called APC, short for alkylphosphocholine, and it’s the first of its kind to directly exploit the difference between healthy and cancerous cells. APC is an innocuous molecule that, when administered, goes through the entire body and enters cells. Normal cells have enzymes that immediately break down APC and expel it back out. However, cancerous cells lack this enzyme, and so APC stays in the cancer cells for weeks.
In this way, APC’s unique ability to get under cancer’s skin opens up new doors in terms of cancer detection. In its trial runs, APC was equipped with a fluorescent marker and was sent to track down 57 different types of cancer in both animal and human models. It successfully tagged 55. “It is a very broad cancer-targeting agent ,” says Dr. John S. Kuo, associate professor of neurosurgery at UW, “both because of the many different cancers that tested positive, and its ability to detect cancer throughout the body.” What really impressed Kuo was that in several cases APC located more cancerous cells than expected: “The APC analogs revealed clusters of cancer in patients that were small, asymptomatic and previously undetected by physicians.”
This is extremely helpful when trying to completely eliminate a tumor and make sure it leaves no traces behind. Kuo adds that using APC has an advantage over current tumor recurrence tests in that in most of these tests, “surgical scars, post-treatment effects, inflammation, or infection can look very similar to recurrent tumor; it is difficult to be certain if cancer has truly returned.” APC presents a much more direct test: if the APC is lingering in the cell, it’s cancerous.
(APC, equipped with a blue biomarker, invades cancer cells. Courtesy UW)
Kuo and his team are looking into ways to equip APC with more than just fluorescent biomarkers: namely, compounds that can eradicate a cancerous cell on the spot. Then the wide variety of cancerous cells that APC can detect becomes the wide variety of cancerous cells that APC can destroy.
The University of Wisconsin, Madison has a thriving research and development sector which attracts $1 billion in grants each year. For further reading regarding funding for the University of Wisconsin, Madison and its studies, click on the link below:
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