Duke chemists synthesize promising anti-cancer product

Aug 20, 2008

Duke University chemists have patented an efficient technique for synthesizing a marine algae extract in sufficient quantities to now test its ability to inhibit the growth of cancerous cells while leaving normal cells unaffected.

The researchers also deduced that this molecule -- called largazole -- acts on cells through the same chemical mechanism as other anti-cancer compounds on the market or in clinical trials. "It's a very exciting molecule," said Jiyong Hong, a Duke assistant chemistry professor.

Hong's graduate student, Yongcheng Ying, will describe the work in an Aug. 20 talk in Philadelphia during the 236th national meeting of the American Chemical Society. It has also been described in a May 29 report in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS).

Hendrik Luesch, a natural product chemist at the University of Florida who led the group that discovered largazole, was a corresponding author of the May JACS report along with Hong. Luesch's team first extracted and identified largazole from a marine blue-green algae collected at Key Largo, Fla.

Guided by evidence of therapeutic benefits from extracts of a related algae, the Florida group demonstrated that largazole could impede breast cancer cell growth better than the anti-tumor drug Taxol without causing Taxol-like side effects on normal breast tissue.

But Luesch's group "isolated just one milligram, a very tiny amount, from natural sources that were very difficult to grow," Hong said. "We needed to develop a concise and efficient synthetic route to make enough largazole for animal studies."

Winning a race with several other groups, the Duke team devised a method to produce gram-sized quantities -- about 1,000 times more -- by identifying three key building blocks in largazole's ring-shaped molecular architecture.

The scientists were then able to use commercially available chemicals to make largazole in eight steps, netting what Hong called a "very, very efficient" 20 percent yield.

"My lab's next task was finding the origin of lagarzole's biological activity," Hong said. The molecule appeared to initiate some signaling cascades that could affect inappropriately proliferating cells but not normal ones.

In the process of sleuthing this question, Hong said his group accidentally discovered that largazole was structurally similar to another molecule called FK228. FK228 is known to inhibit histone deacytelases (HDACs), enzymes regulating genetic activity that can foment cancerous cell growth.

The Duke team confirmed that, like FK228, largazole also suppressed HDACs. Another HDAC suppressor, marketed as Zolinza, has now been approved for the treatment of T-cell lymphoma, Hong said. Others, including FK228, are undergoing clinical trials as anti-cancer drugs.

Hong's group is now doing follow-up research aimed at changing largazole's structure to increase its effects on cell growth. "It could be a very good drug candidate for the treatment of various cancers," he said.

Source: Duke University

Explore further: Killer sea snail a target for new drugs

Related Stories

Researchers find cancer-inhibiting compound under the sea

Aug 08, 2008

University of Florida College of Pharmacy researchers have discovered a marine compound off the coast of Key Largo that inhibits cancer cell growth in laboratory tests, a finding they hope will fuel the development of new ...

Recommended for you

Video: This town has been on fire for 50 years

4 hours ago

In 1962, an underground fire started in the coal-mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. Fifty-three years later, that fire still burns. In this week's episode of Reactions, we explain the history and science ...

Genetic switch detects TNT

7 hours ago

Cleaning-up post-war explosive chemicals could get cheaper and easier, using a new genetic 'switch' device, being developed by scientists at the University of Exeter to detect damaging contaminants, such ...

Why Matisse's bright yellow pigments fade to beige

7 hours ago

An international team of scientists led by Jennifer Mass, Winterthur Museum's senior scientist and an affiliated University of Delaware faculty member, has announced new findings on why a bright yellow pigment ...

Killer sea snail a target for new drugs

Jul 06, 2015

University of Queensland pain treatment researchers have discovered thousands of new peptide toxins hidden deep within the venom of just one type of Queensland cone snail.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.