Screening platform identifies drugs to halt cancer spread


Thursday, 30 November, 2023

Screening platform identifies drugs to halt cancer spread

Research led by the Centenary Institute has given rise to a tool called Invasion-Block that can identify drugs capable of halting the spread of cancer cells. An automated high-content screening platform, Invasion-Block is designed to measure the invasive capacity of cancer cells, enabling scientists to assess how well various drugs and compounds can prevent the spread of cancer.

In a recent study published in the journal PNAS, Invasion-Block was employed to investigate the invasive behaviour of melanoma cells, particularly their ability to infiltrate other parts of the body. It was used in conjunction with a custom-designed image analysis program called S-MARVEL to screen thousands of compounds, including drugs that are already approved for use in people.

“Melanoma is a tough opponent, often spreading rapidly and making it difficult to treat,” noted Dr Shweta Tikoo, a senior study researcher affiliated with the Centenary Institute and the Medical University of Vienna. “The key to finding better treatments lies in drug discovery and this is where the Invasion-Block tool plays a pivotal role.”

Excitingly for the researchers, Invasion Block revealed that drugs that blocked a class of enzymes — known as Abl/Src, PKC, PI3K and ATM kinases — made melanoma cells much less able to invade other tissues. As noted by first author Dr Dajiang Guo, currently a postdoctoral researcher at Weill Cornell Medicine, “This suggests these enzymes may hold the key to finding treatments that can help curb the spread of melanoma.”

The researchers went on to use CRISPR technology to ‘turn off’ the gene responsible for expressing ATM kinase in melanoma cells. In doing so, they observed that the melanoma cells became less invasive in laboratory tests and didn’t spread as much to the lymph nodes when tested in mice.

“We believe that ATM may serve as a potent therapeutic target for treating the spread of melanoma in patients,” Tikoo said.

The researchers say the study is a significant step in the fight against melanoma, offering fresh hope to patients while laying the groundwork for further studies and the development of new and better treatments. Tikoo concluded, “The combination of Invasion-Block and S-MARVEL is opening new avenues in the search for drugs that can arrest the spread of cancer.”

Image credit: iStock.com/Artur Plawgo

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