BAR HARBOR — Researchers at The Jackson Laboratory have identified a molecule that can cause cancer cells to self-destruct.
The molecule called DIDS (for 4,4’-diisothiocyanatostilbene-2-2’-disulfonic acid) prevents repair of some cancer cells, providing a potential new “genetic chemotherapy” approach to cancer treatment. That approach could significantly reduce side effects and the development of treatment resistance compared with traditional chemotherapy.
In healthy people, white blood cells called B cells make antibodies against pathogens or other bodily invaders. In making those antibodies, B cells turn on a gene known as activation-induced cytidine deaminase (AID), which acts as a sort of molecular scissors cutting the chromosomes within the B cell. This is needed to rearrange pieces of the B-cell chromosomes and produce different antibodies to do different jobs.
But in some cancers this process goes wrong, with AID acting out of control and creating mutations and chromosome rearrangements that make the tumor more aggressive.
Those AID-induced cancers proliferate with help from the cell-repair mechanism known as homologous recombination. Researchers in the laboratory of Associate Professor Kevin Mills, Ph.D., discovered that the DIDS molecule blocks the DNA repair action in chronic lymphocytic leukemia, causing the cancer cells to die.
Cyteir Therapeutics, Inc. a startup biotechnology company founded by Mills in 2012, continues to pursue development of the new molecule for cancer therapy.