Researchers from Rice University and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have discovered potential new drugs that work in concert with other drugs to deliver a deadly one-two punch to leukemia. The potential drugs are still years away from being tested in cancer patients, but a recently published study in the journal Leukemia highlights their promise and the innovative methods that led to their discovery.
In previous studies, the research groups of Rice biochemist Natasha Kirienko and MD Anderson physician-scientist Marina Konopleva screened some 45,000 small-molecule compounds to find a few that targeted mitochondria. In the new study, they chose eight of the most promising compounds, identified between five and 30 closely related analogs for each, and conducted tens of thousands of tests to systematically determine how toxic each analog was to leukemia cells, both when administered individually or in combination with existing chemotherapy drugs like doxorubicin.
During times of extreme stress, cells can temporarily forgo mitophagy to get an emergency energy boost. Cancer is notorious for hijacking these sorts of programs to fuel pathological growth. For example, previous research has shown leukemia cells have far more damaged mitochondria than healthy cells and are also more sensitive to mitochondrial damage than healthy cells.
Natasha joins us today to discuss her findings.