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Putting Cells “to Sleep”: a Novel, Gentler Way to Treat Cancer

Traditional treatment for cancer often focuses on killing the malignant cells through radiotherapy or chemotherapy. However, researchers at Oregon State University are investigating the use of pactamycin analogs to inhibit proliferation and induce senescence of head and neck cancer cells — essentially putting them “to sleep” rather than killing them directly.

Pactamycin was previously investigated as an anti-tumor agent but is too toxic for therapeutic use. In this study, the researchers treated head and neck cancer cell lines with pactamycin analogs, which are more selective for the cancer cells than the parent compound. According to lead author Arup Indra, PhD, treating the cancer cells with the pactamycin analogs leads to rapid cell aging and premature senescence by slowing tumor growth and causing it to live in a vegetative state. Controlling tumor growth without killing the cells may help prevent the toxic side effects and treatment resistance that often develop in response to chemotherapy drugs. Furthermore, the pactamycin analogs may be useful for a wide range of cancers, such as melanoma.

According to the authors, the methods still need to be refined to selectively target the cancer cells. Co-author Gitali Indra indicated that development of a nontoxic nanocarrier that provides targeted delivery of the analogs to the cancer cells will be instrumental to their use as a therapy.

Source: Guha G et al. Novel Pactamycin Analogs Induce p53 Dependent Cell-Cycle Arrest at S-Phase in Human Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC) Cells. PLOS ONE, 2015; 10 (5): e0125322

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