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Energy blocker may be potential liver cancer treatment

A team of Johns Hopkins researchers has identified and successfully tested in animals a potential new treatment for liver cancer, a disease for which there are few effective treatments.

Writing in the July 15 issue of Cancer Research, the scientists report that only cancer cells were killed when the compound, 3-bromopyruvate, was given to rabbits with experimental liver tumors.

"It's very exciting because we expected the compound to be pretty toxic, but somehow normal cells in the rabbit protect themselves against it," says Peter Pedersen, Ph.D., professor of biological chemistry who has spent two decades studying energy production in cells and how it relates to cancer growth. "We even injected it into a vein so it was distributed throughout the rabbit, and we still didn't see any apparent toxicity. It's sort of amazing."

A single injection of the compound directly into the artery that feeds the tumor killed a lot of the cancer cells, but left healthy liver alone. The researchers compared 3-bromopyruvate to a currently used treatment for human liver cancer, called chemoembolization, which delivers a dose of chemotherapy to the tumor and also blocks off the artery that feeds it.

"With 3-bromopyruvate in the rabbits, healthy liver seems to be spared, but sections of healthy liver were damaged by chemoembolization," says first author Jeff Geschwind, M.D., associate professor of radiology and director of interventional radiology. "The difference was quite dramatic."

Pedersen cautions that before 3-bromopyruvate could be tested in humans, scientists would need to learn how normal cells protect themselves, whether the compound causes long-term damage to normal tissues, and how increasing the dose affects the animals.

"We assume some level of the compound would be toxic," adds Pedersen. "Any drug can be toxic, it's a matter of determining the limits."

Some 16,600 new cases of primary liver cancer are expected th
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Contact: Joanna Downer
jdowner1@jhmi.edu
410-614-5105
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
14-Jul-2002


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