Researchers make cancer treatment breakthrough

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Researchers at South Africa's University of Johannesburg believe they're on a new path when it comes to treating cancer after recently discovering a new family of selective silver-based anti-cancer drugs.

The promising results mean that the new drug could be effective against cancer while having a significantly lower toxicity than chemotherapy drugs. The drug has already been successfully tested on rats and human cancer cells in the laboratory.

"What we have observed in the lab setting and in-vitro, these compounds do not affect normal or non-malignant cells, even close to the same extent than it does the cancer cells. What we have tested certainly seems to indicate that this compound can target quite a few different types of cancer. And the last set of data that we published actually shows that these compounds actually influence the mitochondria of the cell which is particularly important for us because the mitochondria, these so called 'powerhouses' of the cell, are the ones that are involved in this specific mode of apoptosis," said professor Marianne Cronje, head of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Johannesburg.

The compound is called UJ3 and researchers believe they have made a breakthrough.

"I'm very optimistic. The results look good. We are very happy with them, and we've done the same studies on different compounds and then we found with this specific one that the results look awesome. It actually shows you that it does target the mitochondria and the cancer cells," said Zelinda Engelbrech, a PhD researcher at the University of Johannesburg.

To achieve the goal of medical use, there is still some work to be done.

"We still have to dig a little bit further and go ahead with some zenograph tests. We do know that the compound can enter the tumor. We believe that the upscalebility of these compounds will be relatively inexpensive to do and we're hoping that if this happens and we are successful at clinical trials that this chemotherapy drug would be available to South Africa, to Africa and then to the rest of the world," said Cronje.

The clinical drug developed from the compound is said to be cheaper and more accurate, if the trials go well.

"It is really so exciting news, but yes again to say it's early days. We will have to allow them still a few more years which will also depend on financing. We know that the development of clinical drugs are very expensive and that is why clinical drug developments and new drugs are usually coming from first world countries. So this will really be a breakthrough, and a feather in the cap of South Africa if we can eventually produce such a drug," said Elize Joubert, CEO of the Cancer Association of South Africa.

If UJ3 becomes a chemotherapy drug in the future, the lower dose required, lower toxicity and greater focus on cancer cells will mean fewer side effects for cancer patients, and a medical breakthrough for South Africa.

APTN