A compound that kills specific lymphoma cells has been discovered by an international research team, co-led by the OCI (Ontario Cancer Institute), Canada. This discovery will speed up the development of targeted medications to fight the most common forms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

You can read about this in the online journal Cancer Cell (DOI 0.1016/j.ccr.2009.12.050).

The report shows how the researchers used a chemical compound to block protein BCL6 – which is known to cause cancer in approximately half of all non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cases; the 5th most common form of cancer in Canada.

“We have identified a new avenue for drug development. It is exciting because until now, the prevailing wisdom has been that cancer proteins such as BCL6 would not respond in this way to chemical manipulation. We have proven otherwise,” said co-principal investigator Dr. Gilbert Privé, an OCI senior scientist who specializes in analyzing the structure and function of cancer-related proteins.

The scientists started their quest using 3-dimensional crystallography and computer-aided drug design to filter more than one million potential compounds to about 100 that warranted further investigation. They eventually narrowed the field, down to 10 and, finally, to the one compound that proved successful. In laboratory experiments, there was even better news – not only did the compound kill lymphoma cells, it was is non-toxic.

“If you picture cell proteins as a circuit board, we have found a way to short-circuit a defective connection without destroying the entire board. This is the potential of targeted therapy – to kill specific cancer cells and leave healthy cells untouched,” Dr. Privé added.

The U.S. co-principal investigators were Dr. Ari Melnick, Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City and Alex MacKerell, University of Maryland, Baltimore.

The OCI research was funded by the Canadian Cancer Society and the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation.

Princess Margaret Hospital and its research arm, Ontario Cancer Institute have achieved an international reputation as global leaders in the fight against cancer. Princess Margaret Hospital is a member of the University Health Network, which also includes Toronto General Hospital and Toronto Western Hospital. All three are research hospitals affiliated with the University of Toronto. For more information, go to http://www.uhn.ca

University Health Network (UHN)

Written and adapted by Christian Nordqvist