Tumor-Targeting Agent Attaches to Cancer Cells: Study

New molecule may lead to improvements in detection and treatment, researchers say

From the WebMD Archives

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, June 11, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A new type of tumor-targeting agent may help detect and treat a wide variety of cancers, according to a new study.

This new agent -- dubbed the tumor-targeting alkylphosphocholine (APC) molecule -- can travel throughout the body, even crossing the normally difficult-to-penetrate blood-brain barrier, and stick to cancer cells throughout its journey, researchers say.

Because it attaches to cancer cells and not to healthy ones, it could potentially be used to mark cancer cells for imaging tests or be used to deliver radioactive medication directly to cancer cells.

Animal studies and early human clinical trials indicate that the APC molecule can deliver a radioactive or fluorescent imaging label to cancer cells, as well as radioactive medicine that binds to and destroys the cells.

APC enters the body in an intravenous solution and sticks to the membrane of cancer cells. The cancer cells take up APC and the imaging label or medicine it carries and keep it for days or weeks.

APC worked in 55 of 57 different cancers tested, according to the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center study published June 11 in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

"I was a skeptic; it's almost too good to be true,'' co-lead author Dr. John Kuo, associate professor of neurosurgery and director of the university's comprehensive brain tumor program, said in a university news release.

"It is a very broad cancer-targeting agent in terms of the many different cancers that tested positive. The APC analogs even sometimes revealed other sites of cancer in patients that were small, asymptomatic and previously undetected by physicians," he added.

APC imaging may improve the safety and effectiveness of cancer surgery, because any cancer cells that cannot be safely removed during surgery can be targeted afterwards with radioactive APC therapy, according to Kuo.

He also said that APC imaging might reduce the number of false positive results that occur with current imaging technologies, meaning that cancer patients could continue taking effective treatments and likely avoid the risks and costs of further surgery.