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The Warsaw Voice » The Polish Science Voice » November 29, 2012
Medicine
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More Effective Chemotherapy
November 29, 2012   
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How can chemotherapy for cancer patients be improved? Polish scientists say that one way is to stop special proteins—known as ABC barrier proteins—from removing anticancer drugs from cancer cells.

Barrier proteins attack anticancer drugs after identifying them as harmful to the patient’s body. If barrier proteins can be “persuaded” not to attack, the researchers say, anticancer drugs would stay in the cancer cells and destroy them from inside.
The researchers trying to solve this problem by studying ABC barrier proteins hail from the University of £ód¼. Barrier proteins are present in the body of every human being and act as bodyguards, the researchers say. These proteins remove compounds harmful to the body from the cells, thus creating a natural barrier. Every day the body is exposed to and attacked by different kinds of hazardous substances that may damage genetic material. These hazardous substances are not only pollution because even healthy plant-based foods contain different types of poisons, the researchers say. According to them, even the most health-conscious consumers eat half a gram of such hazardous substances a day on average. This explains why barrier proteins are indispensable to protect cells. There is a high concentration of them in especially important cells, for example in stem cells and those making up the so-called blood-brain and blood-placenta barriers. However, barrier proteins just as often appear in cancer cells.

The basic method for treating cancer, chemotherapy, is based on administering high doses of drugs containing chemicals designed to kill cancer cells. However, ABC proteins recognize drug ingredients as foreign material and remove them from the cancer cells. This phenomenon, called multidrug resistance, has been widely studied by scientists from around the world because it is a key cause of failed treatment.

This group of proteins is being studied by a group of researchers from the Department of Molecular Biophysics at the Faculty of Biology and Environmental Protection of the University of £ód¼, led by Prof. Grzegorz Bartosz, as part of a project called “The role of multidrug resistance transporters in pharmacokinetics and toxicology—in vitro tests in pharmaceutical and clinical practice.” The main aim of the project is to develop methods and diagnostic techniques for the pharmaceutical industry to make it possible to improve the quality of life for cancer patients. If the scientists manage to stop the barrier proteins from removing the drugs administered to the cancer cells, patients will be able to avoid the long-term and unpleasant effects of chemotherapy, which is often burdened with complications.

“We are dealing with one particular class of these proteins, the most important from the medical point of view in terms of chemotherapy-related complications,” says Bartosz. “Multidrug resistance is an important problem worldwide. Scientists in many countries are making attempts to deal with this problem by developing new drugs capable of inhibiting the activity of barrier proteins. There is also a hope that drugs will appear that will not be removed from cancer cells by barrier proteins.”

The researchers at the University of £ód¼ are aiming to devise screening tests to make it possible to assess the presence of barrier proteins and their levels in tumor cells in cancer patients. The idea is to determine how to handle the patient, whether or not to decide to go ahead with chemotherapy and what kind.

“The basis of the tests will be new chemical compounds that are being synthesized by specialists in the field of organic chemistry, compounds that did not exist up to now or were not used for this purpose. We want to develop a ‘dream molecule,’” says Bartosz.

Anti-cancer drugs are among the most expensive pharmaceuticals. It is estimated that the cost of putting a new drug on the market may reach $1 billion. The researchers hope that their tests will make it possible to examine new potential drugs without using experimental animals for this purpose, thus making it possible to reduce the costs of production.

The project is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund under the Innovative Economy Operational Program for the 2007-2013 period. The value of the project is zl.62.34 million, including zl.46.12 million from the European Regional Development Fund and zl.16.22 million from Poland’s National Center for Research and Development.

Danuta K. Gruszczyńska
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