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Sask. researchers uncover enhanced cancer-fighting approach


Ground-breaking research at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) could lead to more effective cancer treatments for patients.

Work done by researchers Andrew Freywald and Franco Vizeacoumar identifies a powerful way to take down cancer cells., according to the university.

Freywald said there are currently two ways to fight cancer, one is a toxic attack on the cancer cells and the other is a more targeted approach to attacking cancer.

He compared the approaches to trying to make a chair fall.

“One way is we can just smash it and then everything falls down. This is our analogy to general traditional cytotoxic therapy.”

Freywald said it was effective but can do damage to the patient.

“They kill cancer cells, but they also kill normal cells in the body. These therapies are very toxic for normal tissues.”

Because of that, Freywald said the treatment can only be used in limited amounts so it does not damage the patient too much.

“Because of this limitation, they cannot eliminate, or they cannot kill cancer cells, because if there were too many too much of this traditional cytotoxic therapy, they start killing the patient. We don't want to kill the patient, you want to kill only selectively cancer cells. So this is a limitation of the general cytotoxic therapy.”

He said the targeted therapies were better in that they were not as toxic, but also had their limitations in that they cannot kill all cancer cells.

Using the chair analogy, Freywald said targeted therapy cuts off one leg of a chair but the chair continues to stand.

“Even with three remaining legs, the chair can still be balanced, and it still stays damaged. But it still stays there,” he said. “Some of the cancer cells die, but some of them will still survive. Then the tumour will come back in a more aggressive format. And this eventually will kill a cancer patient.”

The goal of the research was to find a targeted approach to take down two parts of the cancer cell and improve the chances of eliminating cancer.

The challenge, he said, was to identify which parts of the cancer cell could be targeted that would ultimately kill cancer.

“It's not a trivial task, because there are multiple mechanisms that operate in cancer cells. So there's thousands of them,” Freywald said.

This is where Vizeacoumar’s expertise came in, and he helped identify the best parts of the cancer cell to target.

"We knocked down every single gene to find the targets that can potentially eliminate the cancer cells," Vizeacoumar said. “By this, we actually came with a set of targets. Then we worked with Andrew to identify what is the most optimal within that set.”

At this point, they brought in Dr. Nicolas Bisson from Université Laval who helped the team by identifying all proteins that interact with the first targeted part of the cancer cell.

They narrowed down the set of targets to two. From there they got in touch with a company that Freywald had a connection with to develop an antibody.

"We tested this antibody in animal models of human breast cancer and human pancreatic tumours, and found that this antibody that targets two molecules of our choice of our prediction works very effectively in suppressing tumour growths,” Freywald said.

With their research validated, Freywald said scientists can use the results to develop a more effective targeted treatment for cancer patients.

Vizeacoumar and Freywald said they were grateful to everyone who helped along the way, including Bisson, Behzad Toosi, Humphrey Fonge, Leonard Foster from the University of British Columbia and Aaron White.

The team’s work has been published in Clinical Cancer Research.

Funding was provided by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Genome Canada, the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation, the USask College of Medicine, and #BeLikeBruce Memorial Pancreatic Cancer Research, according to the U of S website. Top Stories

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