The Search for New Cancer Therapies Strikes Gold

Photo by Jingming Pan on Unsplash

The gold complex auranofin has traditionally been used for treating rheumatism but is also being evaluated as a one number of new cancer therapies. According to a study published in Redox Biology, molecules with the same inhibition effect have been discovered that have a more specific effect than auranofin and therefore may have greater potential as cancer therapies.

Auranofin (AF) is classed by the WHO (World Health Organization) as an anti-rheumatic agent and is an active component in the drug Ridaura. AF is also currently being assayed in a string of clinical trials as a possible cancer therapy. One reason for the researchers’ interest in AF is its ability to inhibit thioredoxin reductase (TrxR), a protein central to the thioredoxin system, which protects cells from oxidative stress in all mammals. 

However, TrxR also protects cancer cells, making cancer therapies less effective. Moreover, TrxR, which affects cellular growth and survival, is upregulated in certain forms of cancer.

“There’s a great deal of interest in the ability to inhibit the thioredoxin system in the treatment of cancer, but there’s a risk that healthy cells will also be damaged and killed,” says the study’s co-last author Elias Arnér, professor at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics at Karolinska Institutet. “Our aim is for TrxR inhibitors to be as specific as possible.”

The researchers studied the effects of AF in mouse cancer cells (lung adenocarcinoma and melanoma) and compared them with other recently-developed TrxR-inhibiting molecules called TRi-1 and TRi-2 (thioredoxin reductase inhibitors 1 and 2). 

The study, which was based on new proteomic methods of analysing the entire set of proteins in cells, suggests that the TRi compounds are more specific in their effect than AF. The results show that AF causes very high levels of oxidative stress and has other effects that seem unrelated to the inhibition of TrxR. They also demonstrate that TRi-1 seems to be the most specific TrxR inhibitor so far.

“Our results can serve as an important blueprint for further studies of AF’s mechanism of action and side effects,” said the study’s other co-last author Roman Zubarev, professor at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, Karolinska Institutet. “Having now compared AF with the more specific molecules TRi-1 and TRi-2, we hope that our findings will contribute to the further development of TrxR inhibitors as anticancer drugs.”

Source: Karolinska Insitutet

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