A new family of potential anti-cancer drugs has been discovered by researchers at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).
The silver-based compound may prove to be effective against cancer and has a much lower toxicity than a widely-used chemotherapy drug.
“The most promising complex among these has been successfully tested in rats and in several human cancer cell lines in laboratory studies. The complex is as effective against human esophageal cancer cells, as a widely-used chemotherapy drug, but at a ten times lower dose, and much lower toxicity against non-malignant cells.”
The new drug complex named UJ3 could potentially be effective against cancer in humans. Esophageal cancer is known to become resistant to current forms of chemotherapy.
“The UJ3 complex is as effective as the industry-standard drug Cisplatin in killing cancer cells in laboratory tests done on human breast cancer and melanoma, a very dangerous form of skin cancer, as well,” says Professor Marianne Cronjé, Head of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Johannesburg.
“However, UJ3 requires a ten times lower dose to kill cancer cells. It also focuses more narrowly on cancer cells, so that far fewer healthy cells are killed,” she says.
Fewer side effects
Apart from needing a much lower dose than an industry standard, UJ3 is also much less toxic.
“In rat studies, we see that up to 3 grams of UJ3 can be tolerated per 1 kilogram of bodyweight. This makes UJ3 and other silver phosphine complexes we have tested about as toxic as Vitamin C,” says Professor Reinout Meijboom, Head of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Johannesburg.
If UJ3 becomes a chemotherapy drug in future, the lower dose required, lower toxicity and greater focus on cancer cells will mean fewer side effects from cancer treatment.
UJ3 appears to target the mitochondria, resulting in programmed cell death to kill cancer cells – a process called apoptosis. When a cancer cell dies by apoptosis, the result is a neat and tidy process where the dead cell’s remains are “recycled”, not contaminating healthy cells around them, and not inducing inflammation.
Silver is much cheaper than platinum
UJ3 complex is silver-based. This makes the starter materials for synthesizing the complex far more economical than many chemotherapy drugs that are based on platinum. These complexes can be synthesized with standard laboratory equipment, which shows good potential for large scale manufacture.
Research on UJ3 and other silver thiocyanate phosphine complexes at the University is ongoing. If it turns out that UJ3 can effectively treat cancer in human patients, it heralds a new era in cancer treatment.