An Ohio State study shows that the anti-inflammatory drug Celebrex might become a new treatment to help kill cancer cells.
“There have been some studies to link inflammation to cancer … but this could be a direct link,” said Eric Bolin, a third-year in biochemistry who researches inflammation and obesity.
Jiayuh Lin, senior author of the study and an associate professor of pediatrics, and Chenglong Li, an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy, are conducting the study.
Lin deferred questions to Li.
There are normal cells and cancer cells, and cancer cells are different because they keep growing and can migrate to other organs, Li said.
Li said before finding a treatment, it’s necessary to try to understand the reason behind the differences and to study environmental factors affecting the cells.
Another difference between normal cells and cancer cells is the behavior of the STAT3 protein, Li said. The STAT3, or onco-protein (cancer), “behaves pretty badly,” Li said. In the STAT3 protein, there are concaves or hotspots which need to be blocked.
Li said in normal cells, the STAT3 turns on and off as it’s needed, but in cancer cells, the protein stays on.
Li and Lin have begun their testing using computer-aided drug discovery or computer models.
They use the computer model to carry out a particle swarm, or PSO, method of testing, during which multiple drug particles are essentially thrown at the STAT3 to find the best combination of drug particles to fill the concaves, Li said.
Li explained the technique with an analogy using birds. He compared the STAT3 to a landscape with hills and valleys. Birds swarm above the hills looking for the food that is in the valleys. If Bird A could communicate with Bird C to find the best food, the process would be more efficient, much like the drug particles working together to block the hotspots in the STAT3 protein.
Once Li found the best combination with the strongest binding, he went into the FDA-approved drug database to find one that matched.
Celebrex was the best match and Lin began conducting cell tests in a lab setting.
“I’ve heard of STAT3 in leukemia. Maybe this could be effective in other cancers as well,” said Kelsey Gray, a third-year in biomedical science and researcher of skin cancer genetics. “It’s a cool, interesting study, and I’m excited to see where it goes.”
Li said on average, it takes a decade for a drug to go from lab to market and about $300 million to $700 million. Since they are using a drug that is already on the market with low side-effects, they have only spent about $100 thousand on testing so far, and human trials will come much faster.
Before taking the treatment into a hospital they have to take the testing from cells to mice and dogs to track reactions in living organs.
However, Celebrex will not be used alone to treat cancer cells.
Lin and Li will test a combination of Celebrex and chemotherapy drugs such as Doxorubicin and sorafenib to kill the cells.
“Combining drugs is newer,” Li said. “The FDA just released regulations for combining drugs.”
The testing is for a new treatment and is not meant to cure cancer.
“Nobody can claim to cure cancer,” Li said. “What the root cause of cancer is, we still don’t know. We can only observe it in labs from human samples.”