A study in a University of Windsor biochemistry lab has found a compound with cancer-killing potential.

A U of W research team has targeted and killed 20 varieties of cancer cells using a lab-synthesized drug compound inspired by the common spider lily plant.

Chemistry professor Siyaram Pandey says the synthetic versions of the compound pancratistatin beat out any anti-cancer drug currently in use.

“This drug is very selective and targets the mitochondria of various cancer cells to induce apoptosis, which means the cancer cells commit suicide and the normal cells continue to thrive,” says Dr. Pandey in a news release.

“We are talking about a drug that could be 10 times more effective that the very toxic chemotherapy drug Taxol, and our compound is non-toxic.”

In previous studies, Pandey found that the natural extract of the spider lily plant, a compound called pancratistatin, targeted and killed cancer cells. However, it took one kilogram of plant bud to make one milligram of extract.

Pandey, along with his UWindsor research team of graduate and undergraduate students, partnered with researchers James McNulty from McMaster University and Tomas Hudlicky from Brock University.

Dr. Hudlicky synthesized and patented seven compound variations and the UWindsor laboratory team tested them on animals with tumours as well as 20 varieties of cancer cells, including breast, prostate, melanoma and bone.

By chemically synthesizing versions for this study, the researchers created a more potent cancer-killing compound.

These compounds are non-toxic because instead of targeting the protein tubulin or DNA, which are the same for cancerous and healthy cells, they target only the mitochondria of the cancer cells.

“This is the first time we got a compound which can distinguish between cancer and normal cells,” Pandey says. He says the next step toward making a treatment available would be to have a company develop a clinical trial of the patented drug compounds.

The study’s results appear in Nature’s online publication, Scientific Reports, in the article, Cancer Cell Mitochondria Targeting by Pancratistatin Analogs is Dependent on Functional Complex II and III.