A study led by an Indian origin scientist has discovered a drug that successfully kills cancer stem cells in the human while avoiding the toxic side-effects of conventional cancer treatments.
Unlike chemotherapy and radiation, the drug - thioridazine - appears to have no effect on normal stem cells, according to the scientists at McMaster University.
"The unusual aspect of our finding is the way this human-ready drug actually kills cancer stem cells; by changing them into cells that are non-cancerous," said Mick Bhatia, the principal investigator for the study and scientific director of McMaster's Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute in the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.
The finding holds the promise of a new strategy and discovery pipeline for the development of anticancer drugs in the treatment of various cancers. The research team has identified another dozen drugs that have good potential for the same response.
To test more than a dozen different compounds, McMaster researchers pioneered a fully automated robotic system to identify several drugs, including thioridazine.
Bhatia's team found thioridazine works through the dopamine receptor on the surface of the cancer cells in both leukemia and breast cancer patients.
This means it may be possible to use it as a biomarker that would allow early detection and treatment of breast cancer and early signs of leukemia progression, he said.
The research team's next step is to investigate the effectiveness of the drug in other types of cancer. In addition, the team will explore several drugs identified along with thioridazine.
The research has been published in the science journal CELL.