Dario C. Altieri of the University of Massachusetts Medical School may have found a novel way of fighting cancer. He and his colleagues are studying how small molecules called Gamitrinibs affect prostate cancer cell survival.
The researchers chose prostate cancer as a model, because it’s extremely common. Although largely treatable, it does result in over 30,000 deaths per year in the US.
Curing cancer is a difficult business because you must eliminate all the cancerous cells, lest they metastasize and spread to other parts of the body, while doing minimal damage to non-cancerous cells. It’s easy enough to kill every cell in the body or no cells, but tricky to kill a select subset of cells.
To make matters worse, cancer cells have mechanisms to protect them from aging and dying (apoptosis). One particular protein, tumor necrosis factor receptor-associated protein-1 (TRAP-1), a form of the heat shock protein Hsp90, appears to prevent prostate cancer cell death. Scientists found that TRAP-1 is highly expressed in cancerous human prostate tissue but not in normal prostate tissue. If TRAP-1 is overexpressed in normal prostate cells, the normal cells then become resistant to apoptosis as well.
TRAP-1 can be inhibited by treatment with Gamitrinib, a molecule first synthesized by Dr. Altieri and his colleagues. Under those conditions, prostate cancer cells die just like normal cells. In contrast, treatment with Gamitrinib did not increase the death rate of normal cells.
The researchers hope that Gamitrinib will be a useful treatment not only for prostate cancer, but also for many other types of cancer that rely on TRAP-1 to prevent apoptosis.