Walter and Eliza Hall Institute discover drug to put cancer cells to ‘sleep’
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Australian researchers find drug to put cancer cells to ‘sleep’

03 Aug 2018

Scientists at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research have discovered a new class of drugs that have the potential to put cancer cells into a ‘permanent sleep’.

Australian researchers find drug to put cancer cells to ‘sleep’
New anti-cancer drugs could put cancer cells to sleep by blocking tumour growth and spread. Credit: Mohammad Reza/Penn State.

Scientists at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne, Australia, have discovered a new class of drugs that have the potential to put cancer cells into a ‘permanent sleep’.

The anti-cancer drugs are said to work by blocking tumour growth and spread without causing side-effects commonly associated with standard oncology treatments.

These drugs target KAT6A and KAT6B proteins, which are known to drive cancer.

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute associate professor Tim Thomas said: “Early on, we discovered that genetically depleting KAT6A quadrupled the life expectancy in animal models of blood cancers called lymphoma.

“Armed with the knowledge that KAT6A is an important driver of cancer, we began to look for ways of inhibiting the protein to treat cancer.”

While chemotherapy and radiotherapy cause irreversible DNA damage in cancer cells, the treatments also impact surrounding healthy cells, leading to various short and long-term side effects.

“Rather than causing potentially dangerous DNA damage, this new class of anti-cancer drugs simply puts cancer cells into a permanent sleep.”

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute associate professor Anne Voss said: “Rather than causing potentially dangerous DNA damage, as chemotherapy and radiotherapy do, this new class of anti-cancer drugs simply puts cancer cells into a permanent sleep.

“The technical term is cell senescence. The cells are not dead, but they can no longer divide and proliferate. Without this ability, the cancer cells are effectively stopped in their tracks.”

When tested in preclinical settings, the drugs demonstrated favourable tolerability profile with a capability to arrest disease progression in blood and liver cancers.

The drugs were also able to delay cancer relapse in these models and did not affect healthy cells.

The new compounds have to be further studied and assessed in human patients, but the researchers hope them to offer a consolidation therapy to delay or prevent relapse following initial treatment.