Breakthrough research at UT starves cancer cells

Grad student Shira Cramer and Cancer Researcher Dr. Everett Stone working in UT lab. (KXAN Photo/Richie Bowes)
Grad student Shira Cramer and Cancer Researcher Dr. Everett Stone working in UT lab. (KXAN Photo/Richie Bowes)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin say they have found a way to cut off cancer’s food supply and watch it starve to death. The major breakthrough means a new cancer-fighting drug.

Dr. Everett Stone is one of the researchers behind the drug called cyst(e)inase, which has treated prostate and breast cancers in animals and has shown to lengthen the lifespans in cases of leukemia. “We really believe it’s going to work well with existing drugs, which is very important,” said Dr. Stone “You want to use everything that you know is going to work against your tumor,”

Graduate student Shira Cramer created the enzyme which she said safely starves the cancer cells, “We’re cutting off that supply chain and the normal cell can still make it, but the cancer cell just can’t supply enough to have enough antioxidants.”

Grad student Shira Cramer and Cancer Researcher Dr. Everett Stone (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)
Grad student Shira Cramer and Cancer Researcher Dr. Everett Stone (KXAN Photo/Arezow Doost)

“With no treatment, the cancer cells grow until they are on top of each other,” said Dr. Stone of samples of human prostate cancer cells.  But he explained that when they applied the drug, even small amounts, the cancer cells died.

The same drug was used on mice whose tumors were so aggressive it spread from the breast to the lungs, but once the drug was applied, the tumors disappeared. The researchers say the biggest thing for them is that they have found no side effects. “I think all of us have been hit by loved ones with cancer, I know I have, and I wish there were ways to keep them around longer and that’s what we’re working on,” said Dr. Stone.

“I think all of us have been hit by loved ones with cancer, I know I have, and I wish there were ways to keep them around longer and that’s what we’re working on,” said Dr. Stone.

Researchers say it took about five years to get to this point. Food and Drug Administration approval is next, followed by human clinical trials which could begin as early as one to two years. The group is working with a local bio-tech company in Austin for the preclinical testing.

The research is funded through a $1.5 million award from the National Cancer Institute as well as private funding. The university expects those revenue streams to continue.