New compound prevents cancer cells from regenerating

Patented technology from University of Alberta researchers has the potential to improve treatment for aggressive cancers.

Katie Willis - 27 February 2019

A new molecular compound prevents aggressive cancer cells from repairing themselves, with profound implications for cancer treatment.

Cancer treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy, work by damaging the DNA of cancer cells, causing them to die. The new compound, developed by University of Alberta scientists, prevents cancerous cells from repairing their DNA, increasing the effectiveness of existing therapies.

"It is a 'double whammy' approach to attacking cancer," said Dennis Hall, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Canada Research Chair in Boron Chemistry for Catalysis and Drug Discovery. "Our compound works by stopping an important DNA repair enzyme called polynucleotide kinase-phosphatase (PNKP), which was cloned by my colleague Michael Weinfeld in theFaculty of Medicine & Dentistry."

The new compounds are made using a multicomponent chemical reaction developed in Hall's laboratory in the early 2000s. Though the research is currently at a pre-clinical stage and will need to undergo rigorous testing before entering drug development, the prospects look promising, said Hall.

"We anticipate it could lead to a drug combination that would decrease the resistance of cancerous cells and could eradicate them entirely. At the moment, our team's focus is to eventually apply this concept to colorectal cancer, but in principle it should be applicable to other cancers, such as lung cancer."

In Canada, colorectal cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer, and represents 13 per cent of cancer cases. Approximately 26 Canadians die of colorectal cancer each day. It is estimated that 1 in 13 men and 1 in 12 women will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

The research was conducted by a multidisciplinary team, called the Alberta DNA Repair Consortium, and was funded by the Alberta Cancer Foundation. The technology has been patented, and the team was honoured at TEC Edmonton's Innovation Awards in 2018.