Switching Off a Cancer Protein
Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada, and the disease continues to put significant demands on health-care systems.
However, Dr. Patrick Gunning, Canada Research Chair in Medicinal Chemistry, is hoping to make progress against Stat5, a protein that plays a key role in many cancers.
When Stat5 is working normally, it is switched on for a few minutes, helps cells grow, and then switches off. However, in leukemia, it doesn’t switch off, and goes on to promote tumour growth. Stat5 also promotes resistance to anti-cancer drugs deployed to treat the disease. So far, no drug has been developed to directly target Stat5—it was always believed to be an impossible task.
Gunning, however, has developed a new molecule that is showing promise in the lab and in animal models. It works by binding to Stat5 and switching it off. Significantly, healthy cells do not suffer side effects, meaning the molecule has the potential to become a gentler, more targeted chemotherapy drug.
Next up is testing the molecule in living systems, which means the molecule must be able to penetrate cell membranes, be the right size to pass through the small intestine, and not be metabolized by the body.
Gunning’s research could lead to clinical trials for his molecule, and new hope in the battle against cancer.