Scientists reprogram cancer cells with low doses of epigenetic drugs

Vanessa Wasta
EurekAlert

Experimenting with cells in culture, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have breathed possible new life into two drugs once considered too toxic for human cancer treatment. The drugs, azacitidine (AZA) and decitabine (DAC), are epigenetic-targeted drugs and work to correct cancer-causing alterations that modify DNA.

The researchers said the drugs also were found to take aim at a small but dangerous subpopulation of self-renewing cells, sometimes referred to as cancer stem cells, which evade most cancer drugs and cause recurrence and spread.

In a report published in the March 20, 2012, issue of Cancer Cell, the Johns Hopkins team said their study provides evidence that low doses of the drugs tested on cell cultures cause antitumor responses in breast, lung, and colon cancers.

Conventional chemotherapy agents work by indiscriminately poisoning and killing rapidly-dividing cells, including cancer cells, by damaging cellular machinery and DNA. “In contrast, low doses of AZA and DAC may re-activate genes that stop cancer growth without causing immediate cell-killing or DNA damage,” says Stephen Baylin, M.D., Ludwig Professor of Oncology and deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

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