New tumor-targeting agent can find, treat a variety of cancers

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center are reporting that a new tumor-targeting agent can find dozens of solid tumors and illuminate brain cancer stem cells that are resistant to current treatments.

The agent--called a tumor-targeting alkylphosphocholine (APC) molecule--takes advantage of a weakness shared by breast, brain, colorectal, lung, prostate and skin cancers: The cancer cells lack the enzymes needed to metabolize APC.

When injected intravenously, APC travels throughout the body and inserts into the surfaces of cancer cells and--along with any linked imaging or medications--is incorporated into cancers cancer cells allowing for direct cancer cell imaging or treatment.

The research was published in an article in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

"I started as a skeptic; it's almost too good to be true,'' co-lead study author John S. Kuo, director of the comprehensive brain tumor program at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, said in an announcement. "It is a very broad cancer-targeting agent--both because of the many different cancers that tested positive, and its ability to detect cancer throughout the body. The APC analogs revealed clusters of cancer in patients that were small, asymptomatic and previously undetected by physicians."

Similarly, research published in February out of the University of North Carolina found that use of a SFRP2-molecularly targeted contrast agent with ultrasound could provide physicians with a less expensive and radiation free-alternative for detecting and monitoring cancer compared to modalities such as X-ray, CT and MRI.

One of the reasons APC has the potential to be a superior imaging method, Kuo said, is that standard imaging surgical scars, post-treatment effects, inflammation or infection can look like a recurrent tumor, which makes it difficult to determine whether a cancer has returned. APC, on the other hand, can prevent interpreting these false positives as cancer recurrences or failed treatments, allowing physicians to continue treatment with effective therapies while avoiding the risks and costs associated with "second look" surgeries.

Kuo added that fluorescent intraoperative APC imaging can make cancer surgeries safer and more effective by enabling tumors that can't be safely removed to be post-operatively targeted with radioactive APC therapy.

To learn more:
- see the article in Science Translational Medicine
- check out the announcement