BYU Professor Testing a Potential Treatment for Colon Cancer

Dr. Matt Peterson has developed a modified nucleoside that has potential for treating colon cancer.

Tested in vitro, or in a separate glass container filled with cell culture, this nucleoside was screened by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of their Developmental Therapeutics program. Peterson, who works for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, created a nucleoside which showed selective toxicity against colon cancer cells, inhibiting cell growth and promoting cell death for that type of cancer.

Selective toxicity means that the nucleoside shows potential to kill colon cancer cells without harming the patient. Encouraged by the initial test results, Peterson (and his team of two graduate students and one undergraduate student) will continue to test the nucleoside and develop its properties with the long range goal of treating colon cancer in humans.

Modified nucleosides like Peterson’s are created by replacing a few atoms on the backbone of a naturally occurring nucleoside. The modified nucleoside then reacts with enzymes or other receptors in a variety of ways, depending on the modifications.

Similar approaches have been used to find potential cures for other diseases throughout the world. The drug AZT, which greatly impacted the fight against AIDS, is one example of a modified nucleoside. Peterson originally was studying his nucleoside derivative as a potential treatment for AIDS when he came across its anticancer potential.

The panel where Peterson’s nucleoside was tested had samples from 60 different types of cancer including leukemia, lung cancer, colon cancer, melanoma, breast cancer, and others. Though his nucleoside showed interesting activity against several of these cell lines, it was only toxic against colon cancer and a more limited number of renal cancers and melanomas.

“We’re most excited about the selective toxicity,” Peterson said. “If we can get something that selectively kills human colon cancer and does it without harming the patient, then that’s what we’re looking for in drug discovery.”

The research was published in the March 1 issue of Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry Letters. The next step is to study the nucleoside in mice. If the compound is tolerated well and exhibits selective toxicity in mice, testing will continue until it is eventually tested in humans.

By Alysa Kleinman Posted on