create cancerous tumors. To do this, they need far more energy than healthy cells do. UJ3 targets this need for energy, by shutting down the “powerhouses” of a cancer cell, the mitochondria. The complex then causes the release of the “executioner” protein, an enzyme called caspase-3, which goes to work to dismantle the cell’s command centre and structural supports, cutting it up for recycling in the last stages of apoptosis. Unusual compounds UJ3 complex and the others in the family are based on silver. This makes the starter materials for synthesizing the complex far more economical than a number of industry-standard chemotherapy drugs based on platinum. “These complexes can be synthesized with
standard laboratory equipment, which shows good potential for large scale manufacture. The family of silver thiocyanate phosphine compounds is very large. We were very fortunate to test UJ3, with an unusually ‘flat’ chemical structure, early on in our exploration of this chemical family for cancer treatment”, says Prof Meijboom. Research on UJ3 and other silver thiocyanate phosphine complexes at the University is ongoing. Research funders The research was funded by the Technology Transfer Office of the University of Johannesburg, the National Research Foundation of South Africa, and the Technology Innovation Agency of South Africa.
focus on cancer cells will mean fewer side effects from cancer treatment. UJ3 appears to target the mitochondria, resulting in programmed cell death to kill cancer cells - a process called apoptosis. When a cancer cell dies by apoptosis, the result is a neat and tidy process where the dead cell’s remains are “recycled”, not contaminating healthy cells
around them, and not inducing inflammation.
Certain existing chemotherapy drugs are designed to induce apoptosis, rather than “septic” cell death which is called necrosis, for this reason. Cancer cells grow much bigger and faster, and make copies of themselves much faster, than healthy cells do. In this way they
From left: Professor Reinout Meijboom, Professor Marianne Cronjé, Dr Zelinda Engelbrecht
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