Chemist optimistic about new compound's cancer-killing potential

After years of conducting experiments based largely on trial and error, chemistry professor James Green has learned to manage his expectations for positive outcomes. However, he can’t deny the fleeting surge of excitement he felt when a compound he helped develop proved effective at killing certain types of cancer cells in preliminary lab tests.

“I’ll admit to a five second period where I was actually thrilled,” he said. “If this really did turn out to be something, it would be wonderful.”

The compound he works with is one of a group called allocolchicines, which are derived from colchicine, a natural product used in a medicine to treat gout. One of its many variations, a compound known as ZD6126, was already used in clinical trials on patients with renal cell carcinoma and colorectal cancer. However that testing was halted when it was discovered the compound was toxic at the required doses and some patients started suffering heart problems.

Dr. Green’s lab has developed several variations of the compound, including one brand new one, by manipulating the substitution patterns in the various molecules in order to help them bond better to one another.

“We’re basically tricking the molecules,” he said.

Changing the arrangement of those groups within the compound may affect its biological properties, he said.

Green is collaborating with Siyaram Pandey, a UWindsor biochemist who has been testing a variety of compounds – mostly derived from natural products – for their effectiveness at killing cancer cells. Green said the compound killed leukemia and pancreatic cells without harming other normal cells.

The research has been funded with a two-year, $67,000 grant from Seeds4Hope, an annual program established by the Windsor & Essex Cancer Centre Foundation, which provides start-up funding for locally based innovative cancer research. Green will use the funds to help make more of the compound, which he hopes can eventually be tested on mice and on human blood samples drawn from cancer patients at the Windsor Regional Cancer Centre.

The compound, however, is still years away from reaching the point of human clinical trials, Green cautioned. There will be numerous rigorous lab tests in order to determine if it can ever proceed to that point.

“If this ever turns into anything, you want the safest, most efficient way of making these compounds,” he said.

Green will appear today on Research Matters, a weekly talk show on CJAM 99.1 FM that focuses on the work of University of Windsor researchers and airs Thursdays at 4:30 p.m.