Scientists discover new variety of cancer-fighting compounds

CORVALLIS, Ore. — A promising new class of anti-cancer compounds capable of killing both liver and breast cancer cells has been discovered by a team of researchers at Oregon State University. These new compounds, Select Modulators of AhR-regulated Transcription or SMAhRTs, weren’t the research team’s only discovery either. Scientists also identified the genetic protein aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) as a potential target for future cancer drugs.

“Our research identified a therapeutic lead that acts through a new molecular target for treatment of certain cancers,” says OSU’s professor of cancer research, Siva Kolluri, in a university release.

“This is an exciting development which lays a foundation for a new class of anti-cancer therapeutics acting through the AhR,” adds co-author Edmond Francis O’Donnell III.

Study authors used two molecular screening techniques to make these discoveries. Initially, this all started when those techniques detected a molecule called CGS-15943 capable of activating AhR signaling, thus killing cancer cells.

The OSU team worked with and analyzed cells from human hepatocellular carcinoma, a common variety of liver cancer, as well as cells from triple negative breast cancer. Researchers note triple negative breast cancer makes up about 15 percent of this form of the disease, and has the worst outlook for patients.

“We focused on these two types of cancers because they are difficult to treat and have limited treatment options,” Prof. Kolluri explains. “We were encouraged by the results because they are unrelated cancers and targeting the AhR was effective in inducing death of both of these distinct cancers.”

The team also uncovered AhR-mediated pathways that appear to make it easier for CGS-15943 to attack cancer cells. This may go a long way toward progressing future cancer treatments.

The study appears in the journal Apoptosis.