"Ruined" experiment could lead to new cancer treatment

In collaboration with the Press Association

US researchers who thought that an experiment was ruined when they found that carefully cultivated cells had died, may have stumbled on a possible new cancer treatment.

Normal human cells can be hard to grow in the laboratory, so researchers often work on rapidly-multiplying and resilient human cancer cells as a substitute.

Dr Katherine Schaefer of the University of Rochester Medical Centre was using cancer cells in this way to examine ways to halt the bowel inflammation found in Crohn's disease.

Testing a substance known as 'PPAR-gamma modulator', she was initially irritated to discover that all the cells she was using had died.

"I made a calculation error and used a lot more than I should have. And my cells died," she told Reuters.

"The co-author on my paper said,' Did I hear you say you killed some cancer?' I said 'Oh', and took a closer look."

On further investigation, the team found that the substance seemed to kill epithelial cancer cells, which include colon cancer, oesophageal cancer, liver and skin cancers.

It also appeared to leave normal cells unharmed. The substance attacks the cells' 'skeleton' structure, a similar tactic to current chemotherapy drugs.

Many of the drugs, such as a class known as taxanes, often develop problems of drug resistance, and the researchers said that PPAR-gamma modulator could overcome these.

The team now plan to carry out further tests on PPR-gamma modulators.

The research is published in the International Journal of Cancer.