Science & Research

Knocking out cancer

New delivery method may enhance treatment

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, November / December 2012

Dr. Thomas Klonisch is working on a research project that could one day lead to a cure for brain cancer, one of the most difficult of all tumours to treat.

In fact, the project, led by Klonisch and Drs. Jörg Stetefeld and Jerry Krcek, has already generated positive results in early in-vitro and animal testing and could be ready for clinical trials within the next few years.

The research centres on the development of an efficient mechanism to deliver chemotherapy to destroy brain cancer cells.

Krcek, a neurosurgeon at Health Sciences Centre, identifies three ways currently used to treat brain cancer - surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. But the success of these treatments is limited, and for certain types of brain cancer there is no cure.

Klonisch says he, Krcek and Stetefeld hope to change that, with the help of a family of proteins that can form tubes. One of these proteins is found in a bacterium that grows deep down on the sea floor.

An associate professor of biochemistry at the University of Manitoba, Stetefeld has discovered that these proteins, called "right-handed coiled-coil proteins," lend themselves to forming "tubes" that can be used to convey chemotherapy using noble metals like platinum. "These coiled protein aggregates create little nano-tubes," says Klonisch, Head of the Department of Human Anatomy and Cell Science at the University of Manitoba's Faculty of Medicine. "And we use those nano-tubes as carriers for chemotherapeutics," he says.

The proteins are a story all on their own. "What is really fascinating about this is the tubes come from a bacterium, and the bacterium grows near volcano-like openings at the bottom of the ocean, more than 3,000 metres below the surface. This is a harsh environment these tubes are exposed to. They are very resilient," he says, explaining why they can handle chemotherapeutic drugs.

Klonisch and his colleagues have found different ways to make platinum used in chemotherapy treatments interact with the nano-tubes and be released over time. So far, the team has had success in treating brain cancer cells in the lab. "Under the right conditions, these coiled protein nano-tubes with platinum are highly effective in killing tumour cells," Klonisch says.

The next phase of the project involves more testing using human brain cancer cells in the lab to confirm the findings. Now that Klonisch knows that the platinum-laden proteins can kill cancer cells under certain conditions, the challenge going forward will be to determine whether the delivery system can effectively penetrate the blood-brain barrier. "The work is all ongoing, and the good thing is it is all ongoing here with local experts," says Klonisch. For example, the team is collaborating with experts in neurosurgery, neuropathology, pharmacology, chemistry and anatomy to develop ideas about how to get the platinum-loaded protein nano-tubes into the brain. Other experts will be consulted once the team firms up its evidence, Klonisch says.

Wave: November / December 2012

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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