TUESDAY, Aug. 30, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they're making headway towards a drug that weakens cancer cells without exposing the body to the destructive effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
Tumors in cancer-ridden mice shrank by 90 percent after treatment with the drug, researchers report in a study to be released Tuesday. The compound, called OGT2378, appears to block the ability of cancer cells to grow by manipulating the host's immune system.
However, the research is still in the preliminary stages and the treatment is certainly not a cure, cautioned study co-author Dr. Stephan Ladisch, director of the Center for Cancer and Immunology Research at the Children's Research Institute in Washington, D.C.
The goal of the researchers is to dampen the production of gangliosides, molecules found on the edges of cells. In tumors, these molecules create a kind of "cloud" around cancerous cells that hijacks healthy cells, Ladisch explained.
"Putting all of this together made us think -- what would happen if we were able to interrupt this process? Suppose we could stop the release of these molecules? Would that stop the ability of [tumors] to form?" Ladisch said. "The answer to that is 'yes.'"
Ladisch and colleagues were to report their findings at the American Chemical Society annual meeting, in Washington, D.C.
Tumors were much smaller in mice treated with OGT2378, a chemical compound already used in metabolic disease drugs. The compound, a carbohydrate, seems to block enzymes that cancer cells need to create gangliosides.
The findings are good news, but more research must be done, Ladisch said, and testing in humans will be key. "You can't be sure that there might not be a toxicity that wasn't noticed," he said.
Still, the approach is "promising," said James Paulson, a cancer researcher and director of the Consortium for Functional Glycomics at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego.
"It will be interesting to see if this drug, in combination with existing therapies that kill cancer cells, will lead to more effective regimens for increasing rates of cancer remission and cure."
Learn more about cancer treatment from the American Cancer Society.