Metal-based compound shows promise for kidney cancer patients

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Nana Ohkawa, (808) 564-5911
Public Information Officer, UH Cancer Center
Posted: Sep 24, 2015

Titanium-and-gold-based compound.
Titanium-and-gold-based compound.
From left, Drs. Benelita Elie, Maria Contel and Joe Ramos.
From left, Drs. Benelita Elie, Maria Contel and Joe Ramos.

Researchers have developed a promising metal-based compound that destroys kidney cancer cells, while leaving normal cells unharmed. The findings may provide a new way of treating kidney cancer, opening the potential for more potent and less toxic therapies that would give cancer patients a better quality of life.

Said Dr. Joe Ramos, PhD, a professor and director of the Cancer Biology Program at the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center, “Kidney cancer is frequently diagnosed in the late stages when there are minimal options for treating the deadly disease. The hope is that this could potentially lead to new therapies that would extend the life-span of cancer patients who are diagnosed late."

Kidney cancer is one of the top ten cancers affecting the people of Hawai‘i, and the incidence rate continues to rise. Across the U.S. an estimated 53,813 people are diagnosed with the disease yearly, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Chemical Science published the findings of Dr. Maria Contel, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at Brooklyn College (The City University of New York), and Dr. Ramos. The study highlights the increased effectiveness and reduced toxicity of anti-cancer compounds containing the two metals, titanium and gold, called Compound 5 when used together. The research indicates that the improved anti-tumor activity may be due to the interaction of the different metals with multiple biological targets, or by the improved chemical and physical properties of the new compound.

Said Contel, “A gold-based compound (called Auranofin) has been used to treat rheumatic diseases for years and has recently been used in clinical trials for the treatment of some cancers such as Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. However, that drug does not work well for kidney cancer. An important finding for us was that the incorporation of the titanium fragment into the similar gold based compound 5 increased the activity and specificity towards kidney cancer." 

Unlike previous metallic compounds known to fight cancerous cells, this titanium-gold compound does not attack DNA, but rather causes cancer cell death by blocking a group of enzymes that supports cancer cell survival and metastasis.

Compound 5 shrank tumors and performed better in pre-clinical models than the FDA approved platinum drug, Cisplatin, showing excellent promise for further clinical development. Researchers emphasize the necessity of having further studies to find how the compound affects other cancers and improve its potential for clinical use.

“To do the best cutting-edge cancer research you often need to work between disciplines and institutions. This work is the result of such a collaboration. This is the sort of work especially fostered by Cancer Centers like the UH Cancer Center, and is an important mission of NCI-designated Cancer Centers like ours,” said Ramos.

The UH Cancer Center will host The First International Organometallics Symposium in December 2015, when top researchers in the field will meet to share and discuss the latest findings of using metal-based compounds to fight cancer.

The University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center is one of 68 research institutions designated by the National Cancer Institute.  Affiliated with the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, the center is dedicated to eliminating cancer through research, education, and improved patient care. Learn more at Like us on Facebook at Follow us on Twitter @UHCancerCenter.