VAI researchers hopeful discovery may lead to more effective cancer treatment
Caroline MacGregor July 17, 2013 | WGVU
at Van Andel Institute have been
studying ways to more effectively kill cancer cells without harming the body’s
healthy cells. The research centers around the nutrient, folate, which is believed to be a significant factor in
“Most of the chemotherapeutic agents have side effects. The reason for this is they inhibit other proliferating cells - cancer cells are very dependent on folate, so many tumors highly express this receptor; they basically hijack it, they are rapidly dividing cells so they need to have DNA synthesis."
Melcher is the head of VAI’s laboratory of structural biology and biochemistry
lab. He says cancer cells are dependent on folate – also known as vitamin B9. Folate receptors are critical for cancer cells
to thrive and multiply.
drugs mimic folate to essentially trick the cancer or stop it from dividing
uncontrollably. Toxins in the drugs kill the cancer cells but often at a cost, compromising
scientists have been focusing on a folate receptor alpha or FRa, largely present
in the kidneys and placenta.
they now have a detailed understanding on what is required for efficient binding
of folate receptors which they hope to use to design new antifolates. These
anti-folates or drugs slow the growth of cancer cells.
“If you are able to target these antifolates to this folate receptor, then the antifolates will be preferentially taken up by cancer cells and will preferentially kill cancer cells. So we can now target these antifolates specifically to cancer cells which will greatly increase the activity of these chemotherapeutic agents."
has undergone chemotherapy treatment is familiar with debilitating side effects: hair loss, weight loss, anemia and a loss of white blood cells - critical to
fighting off infection. Melcher hopes
their research leads to effective cancer treating drugs within a few years. His
study, which was co-authored by H. Eric
Xu, also of the VAI, appears in the journal Nature.
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