Israeli researchers say they have used a small molecule to induce the self-destruction of pancreatic cancer cells in mice. The treatment reduced the number of cancer cells by as much as 90 percent a month after being administered, according to their study.
The research holds “great potential for the development of a new effective therapy to treat this aggressive cancer in humans,” Tel Aviv University said in a statement.
The paper was published in the October issue of the journal Oncotarget, a peer-reviewed biomedical journal that covers oncology research. The journal is a lesser-known publication within the academic world, and the studies it publishes generally have a lower impact factor than those published in leading medical journals like The New England Journal of Medicine, Nature or The Lancet. (Impact factor is the number of times a published article has been cited in a year, divided by the total number of articles published in the previous two years.)
Prof. Malka Cohen-Armon and her team at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine led the research, in collaboration with Dr. Talia Golan’s team at the Cancer Research Center at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan.
Pancreatic cancer is currently resistant to all treatments, and patients have poor chances of surviving for five years after being diagnosed.
The researchers inserted xenografts — in this case, human pancreatic cancer cells — into mice whose immune system was suppressed so they wouldn’t reject the foreign cells, and saw the cells multiply below the skin.
They then injected a molecule called PJ34, originally developed to treat stroke victims, into the bloodstream of the mice, to see if it would affect the tumor. This is the first time this molecule has been used to treat cancer, Cohen-Armon said in a phone interview.
After the mice were injected with PJ34 daily for 14 days, the researchers found a “substantial reduction,” of 80% to 90% of the cancer cells, when they measured 30 days after the end of the treatment, the study said.
“This molecule causes an anomaly during the duplication of human cancer cells, provoking their rapid cell death,” said Tel Aviv University’s Cohen-Armon in a statement. “Thus, cell multiplication itself resulted in cell death in the treated cancer cells.”
Furthermore, the PJ34 molecule “exclusively” affected the human cancer cells, but left benign ones unaffected. “No adverse effects were observed, and there were no changes in the weight gain of the mice, nor in their behavior,” said Cohen-Armon.
In parallel studies, the research team found that the molecule “acts efficiently” when they tested it on other types of deadly cancer cell cultures in the lab, including aggressive forms of breast, lung, brain and ovarian cancer, all of which are resistant to current therapies, she said.
Cohen-Armon added that the team hopes to start testing the effect of the molecule on larger animals, and eventually on humans, which could take some two years, depending on funding.