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Bat plant could give some cancers a devil of a time

Posted on Monday, November 28, 2011 · Volume: XLIV · Issue: 24


Also called the devil flower for its black blossoms and odd shape, the bat plant is native to Malaysia. Photo by Greg Patterson.
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Also called the devil flower for its black blossoms and odd shape, the bat plant is native to Malaysia. Photo by Greg Patterson.clear graphic

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Contact: Elizabeth Allen, 210-450-2020

SAN ANTONIO (Nov. 21, 2011) – In a new study published this month in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, researchers with The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio have pinpointed the cancer-fighting potential in the bat plant, or Tacca chantrieri.

Susan Mooberry, Ph.D., is leader of the Experimental Development Therapeutics Program at the Cancer Therapy & Research Center of the Health Science Center and a professor of pharmacology in the School of Medicine. She has been working to isolate substances in the plant, looking for a plant-derived cancer drug with the potential of Taxol.

Alternative for Taxol?
Taxol, the first microtubule stabilizer derived from the Yew family, has been an effective chemotherapy drug, but patients eventually develop problems with resistance over time and toxicity at higher doses. Researchers have long been seeking alternatives.


Dr. Susan Mooberry
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Dr. Susan Mooberry's work with the bat plant has for the first time determined how taccalonolides work to disrupt cellular processes in cancer cells, causing them to die.clear graphic

 

“We’ve been working with these for years with some good results, but never with the potency of Taxol,” said Dr. Mooberry, lead author of the study. “Now we have that potency, and we also show for the first time the taccalonolides’ cellular binding site.”

Potential targeted therapy
Microtubules are structures in the cells that act as conveyer belts. They help maintain cell shape and help guide chromosomes in cell division to ensure that every new cell, including every new cancer cell, gets a full complement of genetic material. When microtubules are stabilized — essentially held still so they can’t do their jobs — this disrupts numerous cellular processes, and the cell can die.

The taccalonolides stabilize microtubules in cancer cells, but they do not attack healthy cells, Dr. Mooberry said. “We’ve run normal prostate cells and normal breast cells through these tests, and they don’t die. The taccalonolides selectively kill cancer cells.”

Until now, how they did this was unknown. The isolation of these highly potent taccalonolides for the first time by Dr. Mooberry’s team shows how they interact directly with microtubules.

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The Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is one of the elite academic cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Cancer Center, and is one of only four in Texas. A leader in developing new drugs to treat cancer, the CTRC Institute for Drug Development (IDD) conducts one of the largest oncology Phase I clinical drug programs in the world, and participates in development of cancer drugs approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. For more information, visit www.ctrc.net.

 
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