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Israeli Researchers Synthesize Cancer-Fighting Molecule

Molecule triggers reaction in crucial enzyme to treat resistant tumors.
By Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 5/20/2014, 10:11 AM

Cancer research (illustrative)
Cancer research (illustrative)
Flash90

Hebrew University researchers have pinpointed the process by which tumors become resistant to cancer treatments, according to NoCamels, paving the way for significant changes in cancer-treating drugs. 

While Israel has developed several anti-cancer drugs, not every patient will benefit from every drug; the correct cancer treatment for any given person must be individualized. Research has thus focused heavily on determining why certain tumors reject specific treatments - and how to universalize anti-cancer drugs to become more and more accessible. 

HUJI's research team previously discovered that breast, lung and colon cancer cells change the structure of an enzyme called Mnk2, which is involved in the transmission of information from the environment or body into the cell. Enzyme MnK2 is found in two forms: it has a “normal” form, which inhibits cancer, and a second form - often triggered by cancer cells - which promotes cancer development.

Research team leader Dr. Rotem Karni announced Sunday that his team had produced molecules capable of returning the enzymes to their normal state. The conversion allows cancer-infected cells to become more receptive to accepting treatment, and enhances the effectiveness of cancer-treating drugs. 

“The mechanism we discovered explains how cancer cells eliminate the anti-cancer form of Mnk2 without changing their DNA, and how they become resistant to anti-cancer treatments — a problem which exists for almost every cancer treatment today,” explained Karni.

“The new molecules we developed in order to change the structure of the Mnk2 enzyme back to its normal form will enable re-sensitizing cancer cells into anti-cancer therapies.”

Graduate student Avi Maimon headed the project under Karni's supervision, within the framework of HUJI's Israel-Canada Institute for Medical Research. A patent for the molecule has also been submitted to Yissum, the University's technology transfer company.