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One in five men and one in six women worldwide develop cancer during their lifetime. One in eight men and one in 11 women die from cancer. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed this estimate while also pointing out that there were 18.1 million new cases of cancer and 9.6 million deaths due to the disease in that year alone.
The current five-year prevalence (the total number of people who are alive within five years of a cancer diagnosis) is estimated to be 43.8 million.
These staggering statistics indicate that the global cancer burden is rising. Cancer research from around the world has been focused on tackling this disease and providing appropriate therapies and drugs for decades now.
A new study published in the American Chemical Society Omega offers the hope of a cancer cure. It suggests a set of organic compounds called phenazines could be effective in targeting and killing cancer cells in the body while leaving healthy cells unharmed.
Phenazines and cytotoxicity
Cytotoxicity is an exciting concept in cancer research that refers to the ability to kill cancer cells. Researchers have been devising experimental cytotoxic drugs and chemotherapy that inhibit cell division, starves the cells, and thereby cause them to die. However, the problem with cytotoxics is that they can kill healthy cells while targeting cancer cells in the body, which leads to a different set of health issues altogether.
To counter this potential harm that can be caused by cytotoxic drugs, the researchers behind this new study — who are all based out of the Tokyo University of Science — turned towards phenazines. Phenazines are a large group of organic compounds that contain nitrogen and have a ring structure with at least two different elements. Though a large number of phenazines are naturally found in certain bacteria, they can be difficult to synthesise to create drugs.
The scientists focused on one type of these phenazines, a category known as phenazinones (N-alkyl-2-halophenazin-1-ones), which reportedly has antibacterial, antifungal, and cytotoxic properties.
Synthesising phenazines to kill cancer cells
The researchers managed to synthesise a number of phenazinones like WS-9659 B, 2-chloropyocyanin and marinocyanins A and B. The cytotoxicity of these synthesised phenazines was then tested against human promyelocytic leukemia HL-60 cells, human lung cancer A549 cells and normal or healthy MRC-5 cells.
Of all the compounds tested, the researchers found that 2-chloropyocyanin was able to selectively target the lung cancer A549 cells while leaving the healthy cells completely unharmed.
This cytotoxicity evaluation suggests that there is at least one type of phenazine which can be synthesised into potential drugs that can target cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unaffected. The scientists also found that these phenanizones are at least four times more selectively toxic against cancer cells than other cytotoxic compounds.
They now hope to take the findings of their study further by conducting animal studies and clinical trials to see if phenazinones can be developed into anticancer drugs that can be widely used to reduce the heavy burden of this disease.
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