Scientists Use Spheroids to Discover Smart Cancer Drugs

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In most of the cases, cancer is caused by gene mutation. Scientists learn more about genes and proteins to find new ways of treating cancer. The primary goal is to stop cancer cells from multiplying, growing and spreading the tumors.

The Scripps Research Institute has a team of researchers that found a new way to screen for cancer drugs. They used small aggregates of cells that were shaped like a ball, called spheroids. The spheroids can rapidly interrogate up to thousands of compounds, in a process called high throughput screening. Using this method, the team found a potential drug to treat a cancer gene.

3D Screening Better Than 2D Screening

The results of the study have been reported in the journal Oncogene.

Timothy Spicer is the director of Lead Identification Discovery Biology and High Throughput Screening, Scripps Research (Florida campus) and one of the corresponding authors of this study. He said:

“What’s important about this research is that we’re able to do studies using a form of cancer cells that are more physiologically relevant and better recapitulates how these cells appear in the body.”

The co-author of the study and the director of HTS Chemistry and Technologies at Scripps Research, Louis Scampavia added:

“Until now, most of the research to screen for cancer drugs has used cells that are growing flat on a plate. With these 3-D spheroids, we emulate much more closely what’s found in living tissues.”

Using the 3D spheroids, researchers can see what happens in a tumor, where there are cells both on the inside and on the outside.

KRAS Gene Mutation Causing One Thrid of All Cancers

In this study, researchers focused on a protein called KRAS. This gene and the RAS gene family are known to mutate in a third of all cancers. They can be found in lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and pancreatic cancer. Moreover, KRAS mutations cause 90% of pancreatic cancers.

The team used pancreatic cancer cell lines for their study. Joseph Kissil, Ph.D., a professor at Scripps Research Medicine and also a co-corresponding author. He explains how important this new study is in treating cancer:

“In the past, KRAS has been a very tricky protein to target. People have spent several decades trying, but so far there has been little success. The KRAS protein is relatively small, and that’s made it hard to attack it directly. But the method of screening that we used in this study allowed us to come at the question in a different way.”

Conducting 3D Screening to Test Overlooked Drugs

Kissil admitted that they looked for drugs to affect the growth of cells but they didn’t know yet how they could work:

“We were not trying to design something to attack a specific part of the KRAS protein. We were just looking for something that acted on some part of the pathway that’s driving cell growth.”

The researchers found that Proscillaridin A affects KRAS. This compound is similar to a type of drugs used in treating some heart diseases. They don’t know if it’s going to treat cancer effectively, but they’re pleased that the 3D methods helped them conduct drug screening. Spicer concludes that they will use this study to screen for other drugs and find an appropriate treatment for cancer.

Rex Austin

Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere