Scientists at UC Santa Barbara have discovered that a drug derived from the evergreen tree could save the lives of some patients with the deadliest form of breast cancer.
The new drug is named trastuzumab-DM1, and is a synthetic derivative of maytansine, a molecule found in an evergreen tree in the genera Maytenus, which grows on several continents.
The drug works by targeting the microtubules of cancer cells, the dynamic, rapidly growing and shortening protein filaments that help cells to divide and multiply (UCSB).
In previous research, the drug was thought to be too dangerous for human use because it was equally toxic to non-cancerous cells. However, scientists found that by combining the substabce with an antibody caused the drug to target only cancer cells, greatly reducing its toxicity.
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.
“Although the drug is not yet approved by the FDA, current clinical trials are open to new patients,” said Mary Ann Jordan, a professor in UCSB’s Department of Cellular, Molecular and Developmental Biology. “And, the drug is being tested, with good results, on other cancers, such as multiple myeloma and B-cell lymphoma.”
About the image above: Fluorescence microscopy image of abnormal mitotic spindles in four breast cancer cells that were treated with antibody-linked maytansine. The chromosomes (blue) are not able to arrange in normal symmetrical functional spindles because the dynamics of the microtubules (green) are inhibited by the drug. The drug-treated cells cannot divide and ultimately die.
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Image Credit: UC Santa Barbara