January 2000

No 1

Scientists at the University of Leicester assess potential of curry constituent

Scientists from across Europe and from America will be converging on the University of Leicester for a Millennium meeting on one of the great scourges of mankind - cancer.

The experts - medical doctors and scientists - and representatives of industry are members of the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer, Pharmacology and Molecular Mechanisms Group, a body which was founded 21 years ago.

They will discuss:

  • the group's contribution to progress in anti-cancer drug development in Europe
  • new directions and methods in the search for novel anti-cancer drugs.
  • Professors Andy Gescher and Will Steward, both of the University of Leicester, are organising the conference between January 12-14. It will be opened by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Robert Burgess.

    Professor Gescher said: "University of Leicester scientists are among the groups which pioneer new approaches to anti-cancer drug development. New methods are increasingly being used in finding new drugs, and these will be critically evaluated at the meeting.

    "One such method is gene chip technology. It is now possible to place a large number of genes on a small piece of glass, which allows the diagnosis of changes in gene expression in biological material.

    "We do not know of many drugs how they exert anti-cancer activity. Using such gene chips, we will be able to deduce changes in gene expression elicited by these drugs. Genetic material extracted from cancer cells after exposure to a drug will be incubated with the chip and the response tells us which genes have been 'switched on' and which have been 'switched off'.

    "This knowledge might help us find new, better, selective, ie less toxic, drugs and improve treatments. Scientists at the University of Leicester MRC Toxicology Unit are actively engaged in developing this technique".

    Professor Gescher added that the University of Leicester, in partnership with the MRC and the Leicester Royal Infirmary, has a very distinctive approach to developing anticancer drugs.

    He said: "We are exploring agents, most of them diet-derived, for which there is circumstantial or experimental evidence that they prevent - or postpone the onset of - cancer. Some of such "tumour-suppressive" agents have also beneficial activity against established cancers. Therefore we try to find out how they interfere with the development of budding cancer cells and explore their activities in patients.

    "Interestingly, for many of these agents, one does not know really how they get into the circulation and to the target tissue and for how long they hang about in the human organism. This we are addressing.

    "At the moment we are focusing on the curry constituent curcumin, and test hypotheses as to how it may exert tumour-suppressive activity and how patients may cope with it when they take it as a tablet (rather than a curry)."

    Professor Gescher said that this approach - to explore novel tumour suppressive agent in terms of their mechanisms of action and their clinical profile in pilot trials in humans - is not done anywhere else in the UK, and only in very few places in Europe.

    He said: "Ten years ago there were no new molecules coming through from industry or academia to be tested in the clinic as potential new anticancer drugs. This situation has changed dramatically in the last five years.

    "How to deal with this new type of agent in early clinical evaluation is one of the topics at the forthcoming conference at Leicester. The relatively recent insights gained by scientists into how normal cells and cancer cells are "wired", and how they transmit "signals" crucial for them to grow and survive, has furnished a good number of novel potential molecules for which we all hope that they are useful drugs and less detrimental to the patient than the existing ones. "However, we must stress that we are at the very early stages of our research - many of these agents are currently in clinical trial and we have to wait for another half decade or so before we know whether or not the potential promise by these novel agents translates into real therapeutic progress."

    Please find following details of the Conference at the University of Leicester:

    Dates: 12-14 January 2000 Time: 9.00 - 18.00 daily

    Title: 21st Annual meeting of the European Organisation for Research & Treatment of Cancer Pharmacology and Molecular Mechanisms Group

    Venue: University of Leicester

    Organisers: Professor Andy Gescher & Professor Will Steward

    Conference opened by: Professor Robert Burgess, The Vice-Chancellor

    Contact Name & Number for further information: Jo Arden, Tel: 0116 252 5550

    For more information, please contact Professor Gescher on 0116 252 5618 or email: ag15@leicester.ac.uk.

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    Last updated: 04 January 2000 16:31
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