Molecule may provide non-surgical kidney cancer treatment

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new molecule identified by US scientists could provide a treatment for kidney cancer that would enable patients to avoid surgery to remove their kidney.

Around 7,000 people are diagnosed with kidney cancer every year in the UK, with the disease tending to affect more men than women.

At present, the majority of patients have to undergo surgery to remove the affected organ, but a molecule that is toxic to kidney cancer could provide a new, non-surgical option.

The molecule, STF-62247, was identified by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Their previous research had focused on a gene called the von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) gene.

The gene normally acts as a brake on cell division - preventing cancer - but is defective in 75 per cent of kidney cancer cases, causing the cells to multiply uncontrollably.

The US team discovered STF-62247 during a search for a small molecule that would kill cells in which the VHL gene is faulty. Publishing their findings in the journal Cancer Cell, the team reveal that STF-62247 is toxic to kidney cancer cells, yet does not usually harm other human cells as they have a working VHL gene. As a result, the molecule could one day be used to treat kidney cancer without causing unwanted side-effects.

Dr Amato Giaccia, professor and director of radiation oncology and radiation biology at Stanford, commented: "You now have a potential means of going after a disease that's been difficult to treat."

The researchers hope that clinical trials involving the molecule will begin within the next couple of years.

The technique used to identify the molecule - pinpointing the deficient gene and exploiting it to find a specific treatment - is a paradigm of drug development, and is being used to find similar therapies against other forms of cancer.