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Stopping tumours with sweetness

A study on the derivatives of artificial sweeteners opens new paths for the therapies blocking the growth of sick cells

From artificial sweeteners, two derivatives that can be the starting point for developing new anticancer drugs. This is the perspective opened by the study of an international team led by Claudiu Supuran, professor of the Department of Neuroscience, psychology, drug research and child health (Neurofarba), published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

"Recent research has highlighted that, despite the fears about the effects on human health that have emerged in the last decades, the substances that make up many of the artificial sweeteners can kill human cancer cells", comments Supuran, professor of pharmaceutical chemistry of the Florentine University. "Our study has set itself the objective of identifying a version of these substances capable of inhibiting even more effectively an enzyme, carbon dioxide, which promotes the growth mechanism of diseased cells in tumours."

The researchers - in addition to Supuran, Alessio Nocentini, Silvia Bua and Murat Bozdac, of Neurofarba, and colleagues from the University of Florida, King Saud University and the Egyptian institutes National Research Center and Kafrelsheikh University - have studied over twenty substances combining them with the sulfonamide / sulfamate contained in sweeteners, to exploit and enhance the capacity of this chemical group to block the action of carbon dioxide.

“Some of the compounds we have studied, linked in specific positions with the chemical structures of the artificial sweeteners examined,” explains the researcher, “have shown an even greater capacity than sweeteners themselves in selecting the harmful variants of carbon dioxide, thus blocking lung, prostate and colon cancer cells, all this without damaging the healthy cells.”

The experiment, carried out in vitro, allowed to identify in particular two molecules that in the future could pave the way for new anticancer therapies with increasingly reduced side effects.

13 January 2020
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