It’s not an uncommon dream for cancer researchers and patients afflicted with cancer to find a way to make cancer cells self-destruct: Remarkably, cancer researchers at the University of Texas, Austin may have found a way to do just that. By ferrying sodium and chloride ions into the cancer cells, the cells are triggered to go through apoptosis, or a programmed cell death.
This process of triggering cell death is not unique to cancer cells only. Cells in the human body are designed to preserve a secure balance of ions inside their cell membranes. When the concentration of ions is disrupted, the cells self-destruct as a way for the body to let go of damaged or dangerous cells.
The challenge in finding a way to force this process upon cancer cells was that once a cell becomes cancerous, it changes the way ions are transported across the cell membrane in a way that blocks apoptosis. However, a natural substance known as prodigiosin, which researchers have known about for almost two decades, can be used as a natural ion transporter in the treatment of cancer.
Dr. Jonathan Sessler, a professor at the University of Texas, Austin’s College of Natural Science, worked with a team of cancer researchers at the University of Texas, the University of Southampton and King Abdulaziz University to create a synthetic ion transporter that binds to chloride ions. The process works in treating cancer in that the chloride ion is surrounded in an “organic blanket” that allows it to dissolve into the cell’s fatty membrane. The researchers then found that once the ion concentration in the cancer cell was disrupted, a natural cell death would occur.
Dr. Jonathan Sessler
Image courtesy of Univesity of Texas
“We have thus closed the loop and shown that this mechanism of chloride influx into the cell by a synthetic transporter does indeed trigger apoptosis,” said Dr. Sessler. “This is exciting because it points the way towards a new approach to anticancer drug development.”
Although this cancer research at the University of Texas, Austin is surely an exciting development, the researchers say that there is still work to be done. Currently, they have not found a way to isolate the cell death to only cancer cells. They will have to develop a method of protecting healthy cells in the human body from apoptosis before this treatment is a viable option for cancer patients.
Continuing research against cancer represents one of the most hard-fought battles in American medicine today. The good news is that significant progress in the field of cancer research and treatment options is being made. Cancer rates for both men and women decreased by 1.5% per year from 2001 through 2010, while the overall rates for incidence of cancer decreased in men and stabilized in women during this time.
The University of Texas, Austin receives a significant amount of research grants to fund studies such as this one concerning synthetic molecules and cancer research. $1.1 billion was awarded in sponsored research at the University of Texas, Austin over the past two years, while in 2014, the National Institutes of Health awarded the University of Texas, Austin $39.6 million. In 2013, the National Science Foundation also gave the University of Texas, Austin $61.6 million in new research funding.
Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. has been in the business of connecting researchers with the tools they need for better, faster research for over 20 years. Researchers and lab suppliers are invited to connect at the BioResearch Product Faire™ Event at the University of Texas, Austin which will take place on September 17th, 2014. Please see our 2014 calendar of events for more U.S. show dates and locations. For more information on the University of Texas, Austin vendor show or funding statistics, click on the button below.