Research highlight

Cancer: Non-dividing tumour cells as a drug target

Nature Communications

February 19, 2014

A drug that preferentially targets non-dividing colon cancer cells, which are often resistant to chemotherapy drugs, is reported in a study published in Nature Communications this week. While the drug is shown here to work in mice, these findings may aid in the development of similar strategies to treat colon cancer in humans.

Quiescent or non-dividing cells are often found in poorly vascularised, nutrient-poor regions of tumours. These cells are frequently resistant to traditional chemotherapeutic agents and, if untreated, can give rise to secondary tumour growth. Stig Linder and colleagues screened 10,000 compounds against colon cancer cells grown in a sphere shape - in order to reproduce the three-dimensional nature of tumours - in the laboratory. They identify one candidate - VLX600 - that blocks cell growth and induces death of cells in the middle of these spheroids. The conditions in this region are likely nutrient-poor in a similar way to conditions in the centre of tumours. The authors show that the drug alters the metabolism of cancer cells forcing them to adopt a more active type of metabolism, which in the absence of a sufficient nutrient supply may lead to cell death. VLX600 was found to work in cooperation with irinotecan, a drug used to treat colon cancer and reduce the growth of tumours in mice.

These results pave the way for the further study of VLX600 and the hope that it may be used to treat colon cancer.

doi: 10.1038/ncomms4295

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