Scientists attempt to beat cancer by suffocating cells within four hours

The new treatment may offer a viable option for unbeatable cancer.
Loukia Papadopoulos
A new treatment could suffocate cancer cells.jpg
A new treatment could suffocate cancer cells.

Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research 

Researchers have been trying to develop treatments for cancer for many years, only to fail. This is because even if some trials work, they always leave remnants of the cancer that then come back stronger and more unbeatable than before.

Stopping cancer in its tracks

Scientists Tanja Weil and David Ng of the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) have now taken a closer look at cancer’s countermeasures in an attempt to stop them in their tracks, according to a press release by the institution on Thursday. “By disrupting the cellular components that are responsible for converting oxygen into chemical energy, they have demonstrated initial success in eliminating cells derived from untreatable metastatic cancer,” says the statement.

They started with the premise that cancer cells are highly adaptive and able to develop mechanisms to avoid the effects of applied treatments. “We want to prevent such adaptation by invading the main pillar of cellular life - how cells breathe – that means take up oxygen - and thus produce chemical energy for growth,” said Ng, group leader at the MPI-P.

The researchers developed a synthetic drug that travels into cells where it reacts to conditions found inside and triggers a chemical process. The drug’s molecules then proceed to bind together and form tiny hairs that are a thousand times thinner than a human hair. “These hairs are fluorescent, so you can look at them directly with a microscope as they form,” says Zhixuan Zhou, an Alexander-von-Humboldt-fellow and first author of the paper.

Scientists attempt to beat cancer by suffocating cells within four hours
Cancer is tricky to beat.

Oxygen consumption in different cell types

The scientists evaluated the oxygen consumption in different cell types and discovered that the hairs stop all of them from converting oxygen into ATP, a molecule that is responsible for energy delivery in cells. This process proved successful even for those cells emerging from untreatable metastatic cancer. In all cases, the cells died rapidly within four hours. All this points to the fact that after some additional years of research, scientists could very well develop a new method to treat up-to-now untreatable cancer.

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The researchers have demonstrated exciting results under controlled laboratory culture and will continue to unravel deeper insights on the basis of how these tiny hairs prevent the conversion of oxygen to chemical energy. With further enhancements, these objects, could in the future, also be manipulated to control other cellular processes to address other important diseases.

Cancer is a debilitating disease with complicated treatment options that often simply do not work. Any research that takes these processes forward and comes up with more effective treatment options is always welcome. Could this latest development be the key to suffocating cancer once and for all? More research needs to be done, but it does seem promising.

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