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New Research Could Help Find New Selective Therapies For Cancer

Update Date: Aug 23, 2014 03:07 PM EDT

Researchers have developed a compound that targets a specific enzyme over-expressed in certain cancers. The team synthesized a first-of-its-kind inhibitor that prevents the activity of an enzyme called neuraminidase. 

Researchers collaborated with a group in Milan, Italy, that has shown that neuraminidases are found in excess amounts in glioblastoma cells, a form of brain cancer. 

The study tested the new enzyme inhibitor and found that it turned glioblastoma cancer stem cells- found within a tumor and believed to drive cancer growth- into normal cells. 

The compound also caused the cells to stop growing, hinting that the mechanism could be important for therapeutics. 

"This is the first proof-of-concept showing a selective neuraminidase inhibitor can have a real effect in human cancer cells," said Chemistry professor Christopher Cairo, who with his team synthesized the inhibitor. "It isn't a drug yet, but it establishes a new target that we think can be used for creating new, more selective drugs."

"I expected it would do something, but I didn't know it would be that striking. It came out beautifully," Cairo said.

Researchers are already working on improving the compound, and developing and testing new and existing inhibitors using a panel of in vitro assays they developed. 

"We've been working on these enzymes for about five years. Validation of our strategy-design of a selective neuraminidase inhibitor and application in a cell that overexpresses that enzyme-is an achievement for us," Cairo added.

The findings of the study has been published in the journal Cell Death & Disease.

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