Chemists at MIT are testing compounds based on a chemical secreted by fungi. The compounds could potentially be used in formulating drugs to treat cancer.
Years ago, a team led by Mohammed Movassaghi, associate professor at MIT, synthesized a complex fungal compound. Previous studies of the compound called 11, 11'-dideoxyverticillin found that it exhibited cancer-fighting characteristics. Movassaghi asserts that a more comprehensive study has to be conducted to determine drug development possibilities.
"There's a lot of data out there, very exciting data, but one thing we were interested in doing is taking a large panel of these compounds, and for the first time, evaluating them in a uniform manner," said Movassaghi.
Scientists believe that compounds naturally produced by fungi known as pipolythiodiketopiperazine (ETP) alkaloids are emitted to help fungi fight organisms that try to invade their territory.
The researchers synthesized natural ETP in the lab and produced similar compounds that they believed the have anti-cancer characteristics. More compounds were created for the new study, forming a variety by either adding or removing chemical groups.
The study was published in Chemical Science online, explaining how 60 compounds were designed and tested for their ability to destroy cancer cells.
"What was particularly exciting to us was to see, across various cancer cell lines, that some of them are quite potent," said Movassaghi.
The 60 compounds were tested on two human cancers, cervical cancer and lymphoma. Lung, kidney and breast cancers were later tested using 25 of the best compounds. It was found that dimeric compounds, formed by combining two identical molecules, were more effective at killing cancer cells compared to momomers, which are single-molecule compounds. The compounds were selective and destroyed cancer cells 1,000 times greater than they did healthy blood cells.
The research team included Movassaghi and his colleagues at MIT and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Nicolas Boyer, an MIT postdoc, is the lead author of the paper.
Many antibiotics, including penicillin, were derived from chemicals extracted from or based on chemicals from fungi. Alexander Fleming made the discovery in 1929 that the fungal contaminant described as "Penicillium notatum" was effective against many forms of bacteria.