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UCSB scientists discover inner workings of potent cancer drug
Date:10/14/2010

(Santa Barbara, Calif.) A potent drug derived from an evergreen tree may soon save the lives of some patients with the deadliest form of breast cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer will claim approximately 40,000 lives in the U.S. this year.

Scientists at UC Santa Barbara, in cooperation with scientists in the pharmaceutical industry, have discovered the mechanism by which this drug kills cancer cells. The team has isolated the drug's action in the test tube as well as in cancer cells.

The results are reported in two studies published as the cover story of the October issue of Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, authored by a team of UCSB researchers. The articles feature work performed in the laboratories of Mary Ann Jordan and Leslie Wilson, professors in UCSB's Department of Cellular, Molecular and Developmental Biology.

"This anticancer drug, called maytansine, when linked to a tumor-targeting antibody, shows promising early results in clinical trials on patients with metastatic breast cancer," said Jordan. "Although the drug is not yet approved by the FDA, current clinical trials are open to new patients. And, the drug is being tested, with good results, on other cancers, such as multiple myeloma and B-cell lymphoma."

Early clinical trials show that the drug shrank the tumors of one-third of the patients in the breast cancer study a strong result, according to the authors. The studies explain that the drug works by targeting the microtubules of cancer cells. Microtubules are the dynamic, rapidly growing and shortening protein filaments that help cells to divide and multiply.

"We discovered how the drug is taken up into the tumor cells," said Jordan. "We found out that it is metabolized by the cancer cells, inhibits the dynamics of cellular microtubules, and thus blocks the mitosis of the spindles in the cells, causing them to die."

Manu Lopus, a postdoctoral fellow a
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Contact: Gail Gallessich
gail.g@ia.ucsb.edu
805-893-7220
University of California -- Santa Barbara
Source:Eurekalert  

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