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Research: Columbia Prof. Discovers New Cancer Treatment


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Columbia Prof. Discovers New Cancer Treatment

Brent Stockwell, a Columbia biology and chemistry professor, has identified a potentially revolutionary new method to selectively kill cancer cells in humans.

Stockwell, working with Columbia postdoctoral researcher Wan Seok Yang, discovered two new molecules called RSL3 and RSL5 that could be used to kill cancerous tumor cells while avoiding the harmful side effects of most existing cancer treatments. The results of Stockwell’s research were published last month in the journal Chemistry & Biology.

“This is potentially very exciting,” Stockwell said. “It’s a whole new way of discovering cancer drugs and is a much more general method to target tumor cells. In ten to fifteen years, maybe this will be the standard way for treating cancer.”

Most cancer drugs do not specifically target tumor cells and instead attack any rapidly proliferating cells. This can lead to a variety of side effects, including nausea, hair loss, and bone marrow repression.

The discovery was a welcome development for Stockwell, who has worked on cancer-related research for several years.

“The problem is, it’s a great idea, but most cancer-causing genes can’t be targeted by small molecules,” Stockwell said. In his research, he aimed to find new molecular approaches that could avoid the unwanted complications of cancer treatment.

This new approach proved to be “synthetic lethality,” which targets cancers that have specific genes called oncogenes. Stockwell looked at products of these oncogenes that could be inhibited by smaller molecules, and after screening 75,000 chemicals, he found that RSL3 and RSL5 are involved with a mutated form of the compound Ras, which is present in one third of cancers. The two compounds lead to iron accumulation and in so doing, selectively kill the targeted cancerous cells through “oxidative cell death.”

“Cancer is a group of around 200 diseases, so if it [the new findings] impacts one third of them, we would be very happy with that,” Stockwell said. “The procedure could be particularly responsive in pancreatic and lung cancer and sarcomas.”

Stockwell also said the treatment could potentially be 100 percent effective when attacking an actual tumor. Researchers found that level of success in laboratory cultures, but it is uncertain whether the same would be true in an actual organism.

Despite the promising developments, there is still much research to be done on the topic.

“Now we need to try to understand this cell death—what triggers it and is it relevant in vivo? And how can we develop this pharmaceutically and therapeutically?” Stockwell said.

How quickly the benefits of Stockwell’s research can be translated into direct patient treatment is also up in the air.

“Three years is the fastest you can imagine treatment if everything went spectacularly well,” Stockwell said. “It could take five to six years.”

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(ColumbiaSpectator.com, By Sandeep Soman, April 22, 2008)


The information contained in these articles may or may not be in agreement with my own opinions. They are not posted as medical advice of any kind.

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