Indian scientists have discovered a compound that limits the spread of cancer tumours.
Published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, the study, conducted primarily by researchers at the National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), Pune, has identified bacteria that act against the chemicals that are known to help tumour cells grow and migrate.
"In its highest concentration, the compound significantly inhibits tumour cell migration," said Jay Prakash Singh, one of the researchers for the study at NCL.
Cancer spreads rapidly in the body, and cancer tumours often grow inside or next to healthy organs, making it difficult for doctors to target tumours and eradicate them.
Chemotherapy and radiation, the two treatments used to combat cancer, often have severe side effects. Singh and his colleagues screened more than 50 varieties of the Streptomyces bacterium, a family of bacteria known to have medicinal properties. They found one that acts against cysteine proteases, chemicals that support cancer spread.
The scientists then tested the key ingredient from the bacterium on human breast cancer and skin cancer cells, and found that it significantly limited the spread of the tumour, in some cases up to 75 per cent, without damaging healthy organs.
P R Rajmohanan, a scientist at NCL who contributed to the study, was optimistic about the results, although he said further research was necessary.
"This compound may have some important applications," said Rajmohanan.
"But further studies on the size of the molecule and its qualities are required."
The molecule will also have to be refined before it can be tested in humans.
"In the beginning, I was just trying to find some compound to inhibit proteases," said Singh.
"Then I thought, let's take on tumors, and we got it."
Based on the research, he got a fellowship to study cancer at the Yale University School of Medicine in the US.