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Posted: 18 April 2006

UCD CSCB Researchers on the trail of potential chemotherapy agent for renal cell cancer

Every year over 100,000 people worldwide die from renal cell cancer, the most common type of kidney cancer. In Ireland alone some 266 new cases are reported each year.

The treatment of renal cell cancer depends on the stage of the cancer and the patient's age and health. Early detection is key to successful treatment with surgery, but if the cancer has reached an advanced stage it is often necessary to remove the kidney. Radiation can be used to treat renal cell cancer, but so far this cancer has proved very resistant to chemotherapeutic drugs.

Dr Matthias Tacke, a Senior Lecturer at the UCD School of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and a researcher with the Centre for Synthesis and Chemical Biology has been working on known anti-cancer drugs belonging to the titanocene family for five years.

Pictured: Mr James Claffey, Ms Clara Pampillón, Dr Katja Strohfeldt, Dr Matthias Tacke and Mr Nigel Sweeney
Pictured: Mr James Claffey, Ms Clara Pampillón, Dr Katja Strohfeldt, Dr Matthias Tacke and Mr Nigel Sweeney

"Titanocene dichloride is a cytotoxic anti-cancer drug, which means that it can selectively kill cancer cells. However, in Phase II clinical trials carried out in Germany in 1998 titanocene dichoride was found not to be cytotoxic enough to justify further trials," explains Dr Tacke. "We decided to focus our research in UCD on making derivatives of titanocene dichloride, which we hoped would be more efficacious."

This research approach led to Dr Tacke's group synthesising 25 new compounds in the laboratory. These compounds were structurally identified and then biologically evaluated.

"Results from the in vitro testing of these compounds were really encouraging. Our best novel compound proved to be 100 times more cytotoxic than titanocene dichloride itself, which was administered in those early clinical trials," continues Dr Tacke.

The next stage for Dr Tacke and his collaborators involved carrying out in vivo studies in mice bearing a human form of the cancer. These in vivo experiments proved that their best compound significantly reduced tumour growth and the results were superior when compared to Cisplatin, which is an established chemotherapy against a variety of cancers.

The in vivo toxicity testing of Dr Tacke's optimal compound shows a very promising profile: it is not very toxic for the liver and kidneys, it does not interfere with the blood formation and it activates the immune system instead of weakening it like most other anti-cancer drugs.

According to Dr Tacke "Our research is aimed at promoting a further improved titanocene into a clinical Phase I study against renal cell cancer in the near future. This could mean that we are on our way here in Ireland to finding an improved chemotherapy product for treating renal cell cancer."

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