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Redesigning molecules for cancer drugs

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RMIT researchers have unlocked a powerful new clue in the search for better cancer treatments, designing a cancer-fighting molecule that combines gold with antioxidants.

Gold is a well-known pharmaceutical commonly used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, but it has recently also been shown to possess anti-cancer properties.

The research is headed by molecular engineer Dr Nedaossadat Mirzadeh and cancer biologist Dr Ravi Shukla at the Centre for Advanced Materials and Industrial Chemistry (CAMIC), who are working on designing molecules with a dual aim: maximising their efficiency in fighting cancer cells while minimising side effects, a feature missing in existing clinical therapeutic agents.

“What we have developed is a new class of gold complexes that contain two anti-cancer components: the gold fragment combined with a cancer-fighting antioxidant  such as that found in fruits, vegetables, tea, red wine and soybeans,” Mirzadeh said.

“Individually, the two components possess anti-cancer properties and are relatively benign in the human body.

“Although the combined power of two super molecules in a cancer-fighting compound didn’t increase its effectiveness two-fold, our results are still extremely promising.”

Engaging a collaborative approach to problem solving, the team’s initial results suggests that applying design principles to molecular chemistry could revolutionise cancer treatment.

“Cancer is responsible for a significant number of deaths worldwide but a true medicinal cure for this disease remains elusive,” Mirzadeh said.

“A new strategy which has not been the subject of prior investigation until recently takes advantage of the combined effect of several different cancer fighting molecules, to address this area of high importance to individuals and broader society.”

Mirzadeh said the challenges in cancer research were finding ways to address the drawbacks of existing clinical therapeutic agents, in particular their high toxicity which caused undesired side-effects in the human body.

“Take prostate cancer for example, where the treatment tends to cause sufferers adverse side-effects due the high dosage of chemotherapy drugs required,” she said.

“We have demonstrated the successful preparation of the first representatives of a family of organometallic gold compounds, containing cancer-fighting antioxidant fragments that display cytotoxicity – or toxic agents – against human prostate cancer cells.”

Recent research by Dr Shukla published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences supports this notion and has shown the promise of antioxidants in prostate cancer therapy.

“Further investigations into the modifications we’ve started may lead to complexes that show even greater activity towards cancer cells,” Mirzadeh said.

CAMIC founder and director Professor Suresh Bhargava, who is also Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor International in the College of Science, Engineering and Health, said the centre was taking a practical approach to research and innovation for impact globally.

“CAMIC is now taking its research excellence to real relevance and transferring its research into innovation by linking science with engineering and biotechnology,” he said.

“This research is an example of its multidisciplinary approach, producing innovative outcomes which are gaining global attention.”

The team’s findings were published in the European Journal of Inorganic Chemistry and were featured in Hot Topics in Gold by Wiley-VCH, a global academic publishing company.

(Source: RMIT, European Journal of Inorganic Chemistry)

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Posted On: 20 March, 2016
Modified On: 17 March, 2016

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