A particular cancer drug can be made 50 times more effective by a chemical found in stinging nettles and ants, new research finds. Researchers at the University of Warwick found that when the chemical, sodium formate, is used in combination with a metal-based cancer treatment, it can greatly increase that treatment’s ability to shut down cancer cells. The research was published online on March 20, 2015 in an open-access article in Nature Communications. The article is titled “Transfer Hydrogenation Catalysis in Cells As a New Approach to Anticancer Drug Design.” Developed by Warwick's Department of Chemistry, the cancer drug, a compound of the metal ruthenium called JS07, is capable of exploiting a cancer cell's natural weaknesses and disrupts its energy generation mechanism. Laboratory tests on ovarian cancer cells have shown that, when used in combination with sodium formate, JS07 is 50 times more effective than when acting alone. Derived from formic acid which is commonly found in a number of natural organisms including nettles and ants, sodium formate (E-237) is more commonly used as a food preservative. The Warwick researchers developed a novel method for binding sodium formate with JS07 to form a more potent form of the drug. The researchers subsequently found that the potent form of JS07 acts as a catalyst when it interacts with a cancer cell's energy-generating mechanism. This interaction disrupts the mechanism, causing the cancer cell's vital processes to cease functioning and for the cell to shut down. Lead-researcher Professor Peter Sadler explains. "Cancer cells require a complex balance of processes to survive. When this balance is disrupted, the cell is unable to function due to a range of process failures and eventually shuts down.
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