New research helps fight against cancer

An on-going research on cancer has led to an exciting stage, which may allow scientists to develop more effective treatment drugs.

The work of a Spain-based team has just been published in ‘Science,’ the prestigious international magazine that promotes research, researchers and their discoveries.

It is a matter of pride for the Wellington-based Victoria University that Jessica Field, its young scientist, won a highly-sought after European Scholarship to study in Madrid, joining the research team led by Dr José Fernando Díaz of the highly reputed ‘Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas.’

She is due to complete her PhD later this year.

Major discovery

The team made the ground-breaking discovery of proving how some existing cancer treatment drugs really work in cancer cells, by obtaining a high-resolution X-ray crystal structure of the drug interaction.

The research showed better understanding of how the drugs fight cancer cells.

“In the past, we have used these drugs, understanding their general effect on cancer cells, but without intricately knowing exactly how they work,” Ms Field said.

The new research would enable scientists to be better equipped to develop more targeted cancer treatment drugs, with improved capability and fewer side effects.

Professor John Miller of the University’s School of Biological Sciences said that he was very proud of his student’s achievements.

Incredible research

“The research itself is incredible and has the potential to change the face of cancer treatment in the future. The very fact that it has been published in such a highly regarded publication is testament to its importance, and to the brilliant work that Jessica and our colleagues have done,” he said.

Earlier in her studies, Ms Field made a remarkable discovery when she was asked to take a compound that had not been previously investigated and find out what it does.
She found that the compound, called ‘Zampanolide,’ has the ability to prevent cancer cells from dividing, which could stop the spread of the disease.

However, one of the most remarkable functions is the way in which it works within the cancer cell.

“A major problem with a cancer drug is that over time, cancer cells can find a way to oust the drug, becoming resistant to the medication. Because of the way this new compound interacts with cancer cells, it cannot be removed from the cell. Therefore, they cannot become resistant to the drug by this mechanism,” Ms Field said.

The University’s Associate Professor Peter Northcote had initially isolated ‘Zampanolide’ from sea sponges found in Tonga, but can now be made synthetically.

Ms Field said that this offered a major benefit.

“In the past, we had to individually screen marine sponges to find ‘Zampanolide,’ but now, we can make it in the required quantities,” she said.

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