Researchers from USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience in the US and Japan’s Nagoya University have identified a drug that could potentially halt cancer growth by acting on the cells’ biological clock.

Interference in circadian rhythm of humans, such as disruption of sleep, is known to harm health. Based on this, the researchers theorised that disturbance to the circadian rhythm of cancer cells may damage or kill the cells.

During a study, the team observed that a molecule called GO289 targets an enzyme that controls the cancer cell’s circadian clock, in turn affecting four other proteins that play a vital role in cell growth and survival.

The molecule was able to block the cell’s circadian clock and slow its cycles. The researchers noted that the drug had less impact on healthy cells.

“In some cancers, the disease takes over the circadian clock mechanism and uses it for the evil purpose of helping itself grow.”

Conducted on human kidney cancer cells and on acute myeloid leukaemia in mice, the study has been published in the Science Advances journal.

USC Michelson Center convergent biosciences director Steve Kay said: “In some cancers, the disease takes over the circadian clock mechanism and uses it for the evil purpose of helping itself grow.

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“With GO289, we can interfere with those processes and stop the cancer from growing.”

When initially tested on human bone cancer cells, GO289 was found to slow the tumours’ circadian clock by acting on the CK2 enzyme.

Subsequent assessment using human kidney cancer cells and on mice with acute myeloid leukaemia demonstrated effect on cancer cell metabolism and additional circadian-related functions associated with cancer growth and metastasis.

The researchers believe that the findings could enable effective new weapon to kill cancer.