NYIT: ‘Lethal interactions’ could stop tough cancers

Lethal weapon: NYIT researchers may have cracked a code that stops the worst cancers from spreading through bone and tissue.

New York Institute of Technology researchers may have found a way to stop cancerous tumors from spreading through the central nervous system.

And for some patients suffering from the worst cancers – and the traditionally awful side effects of conventional chemotherapy – help may be on the way.

A July issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences chronicles the work of associate professor Dong Zhang and his team at NYIT’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in Old Westbury.

The skinny: new “synthetic lethal interactions” that could inhibit tumor growth in mesenchymal cells, which are the cells that develop into connective tissue found in bone, soft tissue and the central nervous system.

Potentially, the interactions – in the form of pharmaceuticals that deactivate certain mutated genes in human cells – could prove to be a more-effective and less-toxic alternative to traditional chemotherapy treatments, which are known to injure healthy cells and cause a host of unpleasant side effects.

Zhang and his team set out to better determine conditions that would inhibit the growth of alternative lengthening telomere cancers, among the most persistent forms of the nefarious disease.

Dong Zhang: Stop right there.

While common cancers that reproduce via the ribonucleoprotein telomerase can be treated with different therapies, ALT cancer cells – accounting for only about 15 percent of all cancers, but including some of the deadliest – lack telomerase. For those cancers, few treatment options exist, and the primary choice is chemo.

Pursuing new potential treatments, Zhang & Co. investigated various human gene mutations associated with cancer development, and ultimately found that removing a certain combination of mutated genes “resulted in dramatic increases of unrepaired DNA damages, preventing the cancerous cells from further reproducing,” according to NYIT.

The findings, detailed here, suggest synthetic drugs developed specifically to inhibit the proper combination of mutated genes could kill ALT cancers – without the toxic side effects of conventional chemotherapy.

Zhang, who is considering various funding opportunities to keep up the work, hopes to conduct further studies aimed at the development of lethal-interaction inhibitors targeting difficult ALT cancers.

“[We] believe that there could be great potential for these novel synthetic lethal therapeutic strategies,” the professor said in a statement. “Therefore, we recommend further exploring this possibility to target ALT cancers.”

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