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Technique kills cancerous cells, leaves healthy cells intact

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Chemists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have produced a molecule that selectively kills cancerous cells in a desired way and leaves healthy cells virtually untouched.

While encouraging, the findings don't mean a new treatment is imminent. The basic laboratory experiments were done in microtiter dishes, where the compound was simply exposed to leukemia and lymphoma cells and healthy white blood cells from mice.

"It's hard to say where this discovery may fit into the big picture, but the pathway we've found is real; it is very provocative," said Paul J. Hergenrother, a professor of chemistry, who directed the study funded by the National Science Foundation.

The study appears in the Dec. 3 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The compound, which is referred to as 13-D in the study, already is being tested by the National Cancer Institute. The University of Illinois has applied for a patent on it.

"The next big step would be to show that this compound works in an animal model," Hergenrother said. "We are very interested in the selectivity of this compound. We now are trying to track down exactly what protein target this compound is binding to in the cancer cells. If we can isolate the protein receptor, we may find a totally new anti-cancer target."

Hergenrother and his doctoral students Vitaliy Nesterenko and Karson S. Putt manufactured a library of 88 artificial compounds based on the structures of certain natural products. Three of the compounds showed a significant ability to kill cancer cells. Those three were further screened to determine if they were killing the cancer cells through apoptosis or necrosis.

Apoptosis is desired because cells die in a programmed fashion and are simply engulfed by other cells. Necrosis is essentially an accidental breakdown that results in the spilling of cellular material that triggers an undesirable anti-inflammatory re
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Contact: Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor
jebarlow@uiuc.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
1-Dec-2003


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