Hawkins began researching TAT-Bim after discussions with co-author Richard S. Hotchkiss, M.D., professor of anesthesiology, medicine and surgery and associate professor of molecular biology and pharmacology. Hotchkiss was seeking proteins that inhibit apoptosis in patients with life-threatening infections and found that TAT-Bim had the unwanted effect of increasing cell death. Hawkins wondered if TAT-Bim could be effective against cancer, and a productive scientific collaboration began between their labs to exploit the anticancer potential of TAT-Bim.
"Unlike most healthy cells, cancer cells grow very fast. So they are always on the verge of running out of natural ingredients like sugars, and mistakes are accumulating in their DNA," Hawkins says. "This results in signals telling cancer cells to die, but the cells don't quite have the permission they need to do it. Proteins like TAT-Bim can tip the balance in favor of death."
To further enhance the cancer-killing power of TAT-Bim and similar proteins under development, Hawkins and his colleagues are working on a technique that will concentrate them within tumors while sparing healthy cells. In collaboration with Robert H. Mach, Ph.D. professor of radiology, they are linking the anticancer proteins to tracer molecules that selectively bind to cancer cells.
"Dr. Mach designed tracers to visualize cancer in PET (positron emission tomography) scans," Hawkins says. "By binding our molecules to the tracers, we can deliver them to cancer cells. We've seen phenomenal results in the lab."
Next Hawkins plans to combine pro-apoptotic proteins such as TAT-Bim with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other anticancer therapeutics in hopes
Source:Washington University School of Medicine