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ND prof. discovers new cancer killing agents

Molly Madden | Thursday, November 5, 2009

A University professor has recently discovered certain chemicals that can kill cancer cells and potentially be used in a new generation of anti-cancer drugs.

Emeritus Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Subhash Basu recently announced his findings based on 10 years of research with almost 20 collaborators. During the past decade, Basu and his associates, including Dr. Rui Ma, Dr. Patrick Boyle and his wife, Dr. Manju Basu, have reported that apoptotic agents such as Tamoxifen and Melphalan will initiate apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in metastatic breast and colon cancer cells.

“Cancer cells are unlike normal cells in that they don’t want to die,” Basu said. “A normal cell goes through a process that ranges from ‘A’ to ‘Z’ with the ‘Z’ being death, but cancer cells obviously never hit ‘Z.’ We found these apoptotic agents start this ‘A’ to ‘Z’ path so we discovered that they can be used to kill cancer cells.”

Basu said he and his associates place the apoptotic agents into a liposome, which is composed of conjugated nanoparticles made of gold, iron oxide or cadium sulfide, resulting in the creation of a “Magic Bullet” that can target several types of cancer cells.

Basu believes the combination of the apoptotic agents with a liposome is a breakthrough in the field of anti-cancer drugs.

“When we administer anti-cancer drugs to patients we have to give them in high doses that kill normal cells as well as cancer cells,” he said. “With the apoptotic agents we would deliver them in a hundred times lower level.”

On Oct. 22, Basu gave a talk at the seventh International Drug Discovery Science and Technology Symposium held in Shanghai, China. Basu said the reaction from China was positive.

“They were pleased with my findings but they asked a lot of questions too,” he said. “They wanted to know how stable the liposomes are and how we can direct the different agents to the different cancer cells. I had to give them a bit of a plan.”

Basu said this plan included continuing his research for at least the next five years.
“We need to definitely establish that the different anti-bodies in the ‘bullet’ go to the different cancer cells,” he said. “We need to make sure that the proper one goes to the liver, colon and breast; finding this information will take years.”

In addition to his recent talk in Shanghai, Basu is slated to give a Plenary lecture at the 20th International Glycoconjugate Meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Dec. 2 and he has been invited to speak on his recent findings at an international symposium held in Mumbai, India, on Feb. 6.

Basu said the purpose of these talks is to make the scientific community aware of his findings as well as to seek funding for his research.

“You don’t get invited to speak unless they think the work you’re doing is important,” he said. “The talks I give are meant to bring greater notoriety to the work I’m doing and we can receive more funding from pharmaceutical companies.”

Basu said he is always proud to report that he receives his funding from outside sources.
“In almost 39 years on campus, I have yet to take a penny from the University,” he said. “In that time, I’ve raised five or six million dollars in support of my research.”

He gained $1.5 million of that sum came when he received the Jacob Javits Research Award from the Neurological Disease and Stroke Institute in 1990. During that time, Basu also worked with internationally recognized cancer biologist Professor Morris Pollard who has been at Notre Dame for more than five decades. Basu said he plans to use Pollard’s cancer research in the initial phases of testing the delivery of the apoptotic compounds by different targeting systems.

Although there are still many years of additional research ahead of him, Basu said he is confident in his work and hopes that bringing more awareness to his findings will prompt further research by others.

“When I give talks I am trying to bring notoriety to what I’m doing and to also convince people that these apoptotic agents can be used as a drug,” he said. Hopefully, this will encourage them to do their own research based on my findings.”