A new revolutionary compound, which is silver-based and could potentially reverse the negative side effects of chemotherapy, has recently been discovered by UJ researchers. The complex delivering the most promising results was tested in both rats and human cancer cells in laboratory studies, yielding success. The compound has been named UJ3 and has been shown to be effective against human esophageal cancer cells, which can generally become resistant to chemotherapy.
According to Carte Blanche, the compound was discovered by chance by a chemist and a medical researcher over a glass of red wine. This could change the course of chemotherapy worldwide. “It was completely serendipitous, in the process we basically stepped on the needle in the haystack,” says Professor Marianne Cronjé, the Head of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Johannesburg and an expert in the field of cancer research. She explained that UJ3 has been tested on both human breast cancer and melanoma, with great success.
Additionally, fewer healthy cells are killed in the process than with traditional chemotherapy.
Side effects related to chemotherapy
According to the American Cancer Society, because chemotherapy drugs travel through the body, normal cells that grow fast get attacked along with fast-growing cancer cells. Cells most likely to be affected include:
- Blood-forming cells in the bone marrow
- Hair follicles
- Cells in the mouth, digestive tract, and reproductive system
Moreover, chemotherapy is expensive, making it inaccessible for many cancer sufferers. It results in an inflammatory response in the patient’s body, and, as mentioned above, it is not specific.
Apoptosis in cells
According to Cronjé, normal, healthy cells go through the natural process of apoptosis, whereby the body eliminates cells that are unhealthy, unnecessary or old. Each day, the body “recycles” around 6 billion of these cells. In cancerous cells, however, apoptosis does not function as normal; instead, the cells keep multiplying, and can eventually result in a tumor.
Cronjé’s research was purposed to find a natural way to induce apoptosis in cancer cells, that would eliminate inflammation and avoid the negative side effects associated with chemotherapy. Research was carried out on indigenous plants, such as the Sutherlandia frutescens (Kankerbossie), in order to find out whether the extracts could induce apoptosis in cancer cells. These were tested in both esophageal and breast tissue cells, and apoptosis indeed took place.
Over a glass of red wine
Cronjé additionally wanted to test the silver compounds with which Professor Reinout Meijboom, Head of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Johannesburg, was working. After giving the compounds to a student, the researchers realized that the cancer cells were changing shape and becoming round, indicating apoptosis. Carte Blanche explains that, out of a 3000 compounds in the silver phosphine family, UJ3 was the third compound tested – and with continuous successful results. It is also cheap and easy to create. UJ3 has since been tested on various different cancers, all resulting in apoptosis for cancer cells, but not for healthy cells.
Has it been tested on humans yet?
Because of the ethical implications in setting up clinical trials, Cronje and Meijboom explained that it will take a long time before it will be testable on humans or available as a cancer treatment.
What are the improvements?
When compared to a widely-used chemotherapy drugs, the compound has proven to be as effective as Cisplatin, whilst requiring a ten times lower dosage, and delivering much lower toxicity against non-malignant cells. The results of the test have been published in BioMetals.
UJ3 is also less toxic
“In rat studies, we see that up to 3 grams of UJ3 can be tolerated per 1 kilogram of bodyweight. This makes UJ3 and other silver phosphine complexes we have tested about as toxic as Vitamin C,” says Professor Meijboom. Click here to find out more about the study.
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