DCU team creates compound that can damage cancer DNA

10 Aug 2023

Prof Andrew Kellett. Image: Brian Arthur

Prof Andrew Kellett of DCU said that click chemistry, the method used for the international study, makes it ‘much more efficient to find new drugs’.

A team of scientists based in Dublin City University (DCU) have created a new compound that can potentially destroy the DNA of cancer cells using a method known as “click” chemistry.

The compound, called Tri-Click Thiophene, or TC-Thio, is a promising class of anti-cancer agents that binds and cuts cancer DNA. Through their research, the team was able to identify how TC-Thio – in the presence of copper ions – could bind and cleave DNA and damage it.

Its DNA damaging properties were found to be similar to Temozolomide, a drug approved for treating brain cancer. However, the mode of action by TC-Thio is different to Temozolomide.

“Cancer, the second leading cause of death worldwide, has been a catalyst for the scientific community to develop new treatment strategies, especially given the severe side effects associated with current chemotherapies,” said Prof Andrew Kellett, who led the DCU team.

Kellet, who is a professor of inorganic and medicinal chemistry at DCU, said that there are many ways a scientist can do this.

“Some examples are devising novel medical devices to enhance surgical outcomes and reduce chemotherapy requirements, improving drug delivery systems, modifying existing drugs to augment their effectiveness and minimise side effects, or designing and synthesising entirely new chemotherapeutic modalities.”

The study was a collaboration between DCU, the Science Foundation Ireland Solid State Pharmaceutical Centre, the University of Southern Denmark and Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.

Published in the prestigious German journal Angewandte Chemie recently, the international study featured on the journal’s cover page and was described as a “hot paper”.

Click chemistry, which took off in the 2000s, revolutionised the field of synthetic chemistry by enabling two chemical components to be clicked together in a highly efficient manner.

Now, the team anticipates that the use of click chemistry in the synthesis of new DNA-targeted therapies will increase, leading to a greater number of potential drugs being screened and “hits” being found in the fight against cancer.

“Designing new chemotherapies holds tremendous promise in the search for treatments that maximise benefits, minimise drawbacks and save more lives than ever before. Applying click chemistry, here, makes it much more efficient to find new drugs that might do exactly that,” Kellet explained.

“Some of the most successful anti-cancer drugs have targeted DNA, rendering it dysfunctional for cancer cells. This makes DNA an effective target, and many scientists are focused on achieving this with their newly developed drugs.

“TC-Thio binds to and damages DNA and we are now focusing on further developing and evaluating it as a potential anti-cancer drug.”

Earlier this week, scientists at DCU claimed to have developed a preliminary blood test that can predict the effectiveness of breast cancer treatments based on a clinical trial on patients with early-stage HER2 positive breast cancer.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic