Miniature Molecules for Killing Cancer Cells

Vanadium-Containing Nanoscale Molecules as Cancer Killing Drugs

Cancer is a leading cause of death around the world. Today one of the most common cancer treatments is chemotherapy, which often uses cisplatin, a platinum-containing small molecule, to target and selectively eliminate cancer cells. In many cases this method of treatment has been successful, restoring individuals to their former healthy states. In fact, cisplatin-based methods of chemotherapy helped the famous cyclist Lance Armstrong overcome a severe form of testicular cancer. However, patients are increasingly developing drug resistant cancers, which are immune to the cisplatin variety of chemotherapy, creating an increasingly urgent need for alternative oncology therapeutics. A new breakthrough in oncological nanomedicine by Emory researchers including work done by Jie Song (post-doctoral fellow) and Craig Hill, PhD the Goodrich C. White Professor of Science which shows promising results for addressing this rising need.

Cancer Cells
Cancer Cells

The Emory team has developed a small vanadium-containing zwitterion, which has an overall neutral charge in which some regions of the molecule have a positive charge, and others have a negative charge. This zwitterion is a polar molecule, thereby endowing it with unique chemical properties and capabilities including the ability to easily enter cells through endocytosis, a process by which the cell encapsulates the zwitterions and brings them into the cell itself.

Once inside the tumor, which is made up of a mass of cancer cells, the vanadium-containing nanocluster, can exploit the cancer cell’s increased metabolic rate to catalyze the rapid oxidation of the cells’ protective molecules, including its antioxidants, glutathione (a sulfur containing compound), and vitamin C. The selective degradation of the cancer cells’ protective molecules renders the cell incapable of dealing with the toxic byproducts of its own metabolism and consequently, the cancer cell dies.

The vanadium-containing nanocluster, may be a future and possibly better alternative to chemotherapy compared to today’s traditional methods. This compound has proven to be more effective against drug resistant varieties of cancer and reduces the cytotoxicity to non-cancer cells compared with currently marketed therapeutics. One of its core components, vanadium, is also an inexpensive transition metal. Furthermore, the nanoclusters are relatively easy to synthesize, making them a promising commercial product.

Craig Hill, PhD
Craig Hill, PhD

Although this technology is still in the early stages of its development, it is showing great promise. Emory researchers have completed initial animal trials in rats, which have yielded solid data on the vanadium containing cancer killing agent’s efficacy in treating cervical, ovarian, head, and neck cancers. “Our next steps are to get FDA approval, to publish our research, and to finalize the patenting of our drug. We will then work on determining the best way to administer the drug. Our initial results confirm that compared to cisplatin, our drug is just as if not more effective in treating similar cancer cell lines.” says Hill. Justin Burns, the Emory Office of Technology Transfer Licensing Associate working with this innovation, says, “I believe this innovation could possibly be a replacement for conventional treatment methods. Although it is too early to know how far and wide these compounds will be applicable, I think they show great promise as new oncology therapeutics.”

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Techid: 17019