Brock chemist patents a synthesized compound that may kill Cancer cells

Brock University Chemist Tomas Hudlicky / Brock University


A Brock University professor has synthesized a chemical that may attack cancer cells. Professor of chemistry Tomas Hudlicky has synthesized the compound pancratistatin that a research team at the University of Windsor has been testing.  Appearing in the February issue of Scientific Reports, the paper discusses the ability of the compound to target and kill cancer cells.

The chemical does occur naturally, though not in large quantities. It is found in the spider lily, a plant that gets it’s name from long, spine-like petals that look like the legs of a spider. However, to get only two milligrams of pancratistatin, it takes a kilogram of the plant. Being able to reproduce the substance greatly increases the usefulness and testing possibilities.

“The aim is to make the new and active derivatives available for the manufacture of anti-cancer drugs,” said Hudlicky in a press release. Hudlicky, who is the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in biocatalysis, has spent 25 years researching pancratistatin.

Hudlicky says it is still unclear why and how pancratistatin causes the death of cancer cells. The University of Windsor research team found that the compound attacks the cell’s mitochondria. According to the paper by the Windsor research team, the Mitochondria produces energy for the cell and also “plays a role in apoptosis,” which is programmed cell death. The compounds synthesized by Hudlicky were tested by the research team and discovered to be “effective in disrupting mitochondrial function and activating the intrinsic pathway of apoptosis.”

In plain English, the compound causes the energy center of the cancer cell to malfunction, which essentially makes the cell kill itself.

The mitochondria is specific to each cell, they said, and is a more specific target for cancer treatment. Current methods attack healthy cells as well, though this chemical may be able to attack only the cancer cells.

More testing is required to determine if this compound will be an effective cancer treatment. Hudlicky is partnering with James McNulty, a chemistry professor at McMaster University to continue developing compounds for cancer treatment and other commercial uses.

Hudlicky says that he will continue with his research into anti-cancer compounds and is developing other compounds which are derived from daffodils and snowdrops. This research will take place through funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and a pharmaceutical company.

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