Idea inspires new screening test for anti-cancer agents

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‘Cell-based chemical genetic screening test’ has broad potential

In a study published in the December 2003 issue of Cell, investigators from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute demonstrated that a new technique has helped them to identify a class of existing drugs able to kill certain types of cancer cells. “This is an example where one person’s work – that of Bill Sellers [of Medical Oncology] – triggers an idea by someone in another lab that leads to a new approach,” says Pamela Silver, of Cancer Biology, the study’s senior author. “In this case, it has led to a type of screening test with broad potential.” When Tweeny Kau, a member of Silver’s lab, learned about Sellers’ findings, a realization dawned. The result was a “cell-based chemical genetic screening test” for potential cancer drugs. Using high-speed automated equipment, researchers screened more than 18,000 compounds in cancer cells where the P13 pathway was abnormal. They discovered a number of compounds with anti-cancer properties, including an existing class of drugs known as phenothiazines, which are used to treat certain psychotic conditions. Another of the successful compounds is the natural product of a sea sponge, and some are similar to substances known to block certain key enzymes in the cell.