Scientists in Israel are probing an ‘Achilles’ heel’ in cancer cells — and they are hopeful that a new array of drugs will be designed to exploit the weakness.
The research is being done at Tel Aviv University, and it probes one basic difference between healthy cells and most cancer cells — the difference in the number of chromosomes.
Healthy human cells have 46 chromosomes — two sets of 23.
But roughly 90 percent of solid tumor cells and 75 percent of blood cancer cells have the wrong number of chromosomes — 45, for example, or 47 — a condition called aneuploidy.
The latest research, which studied 1,000 cell cultures from cancer patients, is centered on these chromosomal abnormalities, the university’s Dr. Uri Ben-David told the Jerusalem Post.
The patients’ “aneuploid” cancer cells were tested for their sensitivity to thousands of drugs, he said.
In what the scientists are calling a breakthrough, they found that aneuploid cells are more sensitive to drugs that inhibit or delay the separation of chromosomes during cell division.
“The aneuploid cells are more sensitive to this interference than normal cells,” he told the Jerusalem Post.
“Therefore, they make for attractive targets for drug discovery and drug development.”
The goal is to design cancer-killing drugs that target these aneuploid cells while leaving the healthy cells alone.
The next step will take the research beyond the study of cultured tumors by attempting to replicate the findings in mice.
“The overall vision here is that by understanding how aneuploid cells are different from normal cells, and detecting the Achilles’ heel of aneuploid cells, this could be a very attractive way to selectively kill cancer cells,” Ben-David said.
The Israeli study was conducted in collaboration with labs in the United States, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy, and its results were published Wednesday in the journal Nature.