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Identifying potential cancer treatments faster

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Potential cancer treatments could be discovered more quickly with a new approach that accelerates the discovery of possible antibodies.

A new approach for discovering potential cancer treatments has been revealed by researchers at the University of Michigan (MI, US). The research, published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, details the approach that could identify drugs effective against the growth of tumor cells in humans much faster than traditional methods.

The approach involves testing the drug’s effectiveness on cancer cells in a test tube model, aimed at replicating the cancer in its native environment. “We create an environment in which cells cultured in the laboratory ‘think’ they are growing in the body and then rapidly screen large numbers of antibodies to see if any exert anticancer effects,” explained Stephen Weiss from the University’s Life Sciences Institute.

Utilizing this method, the research team identified an antibody, termed 4C3, and the molecule on the cancer cells that the antibody targets. 4C3 almost entirely stopped breast cancer tumor growth in animal models and investigations are underway to determine whether the antibody can be engineered to produce humanized monoclonal antibodies for use as a potential treatment for humans.

The researchers replicated the cancerous environment using a connective tissue molecule very alike that found surrounding breast cancer cells in humans to create a 3-D collagen ’matrix’. Breast cancer cells could then be embedded into this collagen to grow as they would in human tissue. Injecting this cancer–collagen tissue complex into mice triggered an immune-like response in which the mice recognized the foreign cells and generated thousands of antibodies to combat them. These antibodies can then be tested for their effectiveness against the growth of human cancer cells.

The main benefit of this technique over existing methods is the efficiency: “Discovering new targets for cancer therapeutics is a long and tedious undertaking, and identifying and developing a potential drug to specifically hit that target without harming healthy cells is a daunting task,” Weiss stated. “Our approach allows us to identify potential therapeutics in a fraction of the time that traditional methods require.”

Weiss commented on the research going forward: “We still need to do a lot more work to determine how effective 4C3 might be as a treatment for breast and other cancers, on its own or in conjunction with other therapies.” Adding, “but we have enough data to warrant further pursuit, and are expanding our efforts to use this discovery platform to find similarly promising antibodies.”

Source: New discovery approach accelerates identification of potential cancer treatments; Dudley DT, Li X, Hu CY, Kleer CG, Willis AL, Weiss SJ. A 3D matrix platform for the rapid generation of therapeutic anti-human carcinoma monoclonal antibodies. PNAS (2014) doi: 10.1073/pnas.1410996111.

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