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Proteins Developed at Boise State Effectively Fight 58 Types of Tumors

By: Cienna Madrid   Published 7:10 am / August 14, 2017

Boise State University researchers have created anti-cancer drugs that are effective at killing 58 of the 60 types of tumors found in the National Cancer Institutes NCI-60 panel of cancer cells, which affect nine organ systems in the human body.

Two men standing

Hampikian, left, with co-author Alileche.

In a new research paper, biological sciences professors Abdelkrim Alileche and Greg Hampikian report that two drugs, 9R and 9S1, are effective against 58 of the 60 tumors. Their work was sponsored by a grant from the Elsa U. Pardee Foundation.

The full article is available online at: https://bmccancer.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12885-017-3514-z

The proteins, commonly known as Nullomers, are the shortest nucleotide or amino acids sequences absent from nature. In 2007, Hampikian and fellow Boise State researcher Tim Andersen discovered and published the complete list of shortest absent protein sequences for all sequenced life on earth. This led to their research on how the absence of these short sequences could affect the human genome.

“We realized this is exactly how the human immune system works, looking for short sequences that don’t exist in the human genome – and killing them,” said Hampikian.

Since 2007, Hampikian’s lab at Boise State has used some of the absent protein sequences, just five amino acids long, to kill cultured human cancers.

“Some of the sequences had no effect, which is great because we can use them as same-size controls. But one of them worked really well, and we have made two drug candidates from it. There are still 196 Nullomer peptides that we are screening, and we have other promising candidates,” Hampikian said.

“There really is no similar type of protein, effective against solid tumor and blood cancers, from all nine organ systems in the NCI-60 panel – including kidney, ovary, skin melanoma, lung, brain, lung, colon, prostate and the hematopoietic system,” said Alileche. “While there are toxic effects against some normal cell lines, several cancers are more sensitive than normal cells.”

“We are now working to make the drugs more specific to tumor cells and have begun further studies,” Hampikian said.

While this treatment holds promise for fighting cancer in humans, the team is beginning new studies and it will be a few years before testing advances to that stage.