Researchers from the University of Montreal, Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital and Laval University have discovered a channel to attack leukemia and other cancer cells, reports a new study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. This discovery of a previously hidden channel may alter the way doctors treat cancer patients.

Senior author Dindial Ramotar, a professor at the University of Montreal Faculty of Medicine and a scientist at the affiliated Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, said “We found a gateway, which is present in all humans, that allows anti-cancer agents such as Bleomycin to enter the body so they may reach and attack leukemia cells.”

Dr. Ramotar began testing his theory ten years ago using baker’s yeast, which is remarkably similar to human cells.

Dr. Ramotar explained “Our discovery went from that model system to human cells and will soon reach the bedside through translational therapy. We are on the brink of testing patients.”

The new gateway (SLC22A16) may be a lifesaver for patients with AML (acute myeloid leukemia), a cancer affecting white blood cells. AML patients are extremely hard to treat, because most are unresponsive to anticancer remedies.

Dr. Ramotar said “We can now streamline anti-cancer agents to treat AML. For example, we found the anti-cancer agent Bleomycin has positive results on lymphoma cells derived from patients and depends on the presence of the gateway. That’s especially good news, since Bleomycin does not act as an immunosuppressant.”

The newly identified gateway, Dr. Ramotar cautions, is only “present in some cell types such as those derived from bone marrow.” The channel also does not function in colon and breast cancer making it difficult to treat these patients with Bleomycin, he adds. “We must now examine ways to stimulate the gateway to treat a broad range of cancers using Bleomycin and other drugs.”

This study was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the National Cancer Institute of Canada.

“The Human Carnitine Transporter SLC22A16 Mediates High Affinity Uptake of the Anticancer Polyamine Analogue Bleomycin-A5”
The Journal of Biological Chemistry
Authored by Mustapha Aouida and Dindial Ramotar of the Université de Montréal in collaboration with Richard Poulin of the Université Laval.
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Written by Christian Nordqvist

University of Montreal, Canada