How Targeting Copper Levels in Tumours Could Hold Key to One of the Deadliest Childhood Cancers
November 19, 2018
Tumour cells are known to have high levels of copper. Now researchers at Children’s Cancer Institute in Sydney have found that an antioxidant found in green tea can kill tumour cells by targeting only those with high levels of the metal without harming the healthy cells around them.
The data, published in the journal Theranostics, which saw tumours in animal models significantly reduce in size, opens a new avenue for the targeted treatment of one of the deadliest childhood cancers. Neuroblastoma claims more lives of children under the age of 5 than any other cancer. The survival rate for high-risk neuroblastoma is about 50% and the rate for the most aggressive form can be as low as 15%.
The research team led by Dr Orazio Vittorio show that the antioxidant, Catechin (found in green tea amongst other foods), significantly reduces the capacity of a neuroblastoma tumour to accumulate copper from the blood.
Copper is an emerging target for the treatment of cancers and this paper is the first in the world to describe a PET imaging technique to reveal elevated copper levels in neuroblastoma and to monitor tumour response to therapies.
The research team has discovered that a drug called Catechin, when combined with a sugar called Dextran (which ensures the drug stays in the body longer), effectively targets the copper in tumours, causing oxidative stress and killing the cancer cells, without harming healthy cells with lower levels of copper.
In animal studies this Dextran-Catechin combination led to significant reductions in the size of the tumours.
Dr Vittorio collaborated with Drs Arvind Parmar and Giancarlo Pascali at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation to develop a specific PET imaging method to study the effect of this copper-targeting therapy. “It opens the way not only for a novel treatment for this disease, but also a new screening method to ensure the patient’s tumour is responding to this treatment,” Dr Vittorio said.
Dr Vittorio observed in 2012 that Catechin, found in things like green tea, slows tumour growth in the laboratory but breaks down too quickly in the body to be effective. By combining it with Dextran, the complex was both stable in the body and also less toxic for healthy tissue, a major benefit because 70% of children who survive neuroblastoma have life-long health problems because of the toxicity of chemotherapy. “This is exciting because it’s a new way to target copper in the childhood cancer neuroblastoma that appears safe and has minimal side-effects,” Dr Vittorio said.
About Children’s Cancer Institute
Originally founded by two fathers of children with cancer in 1976, Children’s Cancer Institute is the only independent medical research institute in Australia wholly dedicated to research into the causes, prevention and cure of childhood cancer. Forty years on, our vision remains unchanged – to save the lives of all children with cancer and to eliminate their suffering. The Institute has grown to now employ more than 220 researchers, operational staff and students, and has established a national and international reputation for scientific excellence.
Our focus is on translational research, and we have an integrated team of laboratory researchers and clinician scientists who work together in partnership to discover new treatments which can be progressed from the lab bench to the beds of children on wards in our hospitals as quickly as possible. These new treatments are specifically targeting childhood cancers, so we can develop safer and more effective drugs and drug combinations that will minimise side-effects and ultimately give children with cancer the best chance of a cure with the highest possible quality of life.
We are currently leading the establishment of the Zero Childhood Cancer national child cancer personalised medicine program for children with the most aggressive cancers, in partnership with the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network. This program will revolutionise the way treatment decisions are made, with the aim of improving survivorship for those children at highest risk of treatment failure from their disease.