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1.  Evolutionarily Repurposed Networks Reveal the Well-Known Antifungal Drug Thiabendazole to Be a Novel Vascular Disrupting Agent 
PLoS Biology  2012;10(8):e1001379.
Analysis of a genetic module repurposed between yeast and vertebrates reveals that a common antifungal medication is also a potent vascular disrupting agent.
Studies in diverse organisms have revealed a surprising depth to the evolutionary conservation of genetic modules. For example, a systematic analysis of such conserved modules has recently shown that genes in yeast that maintain cell walls have been repurposed in vertebrates to regulate vein and artery growth. We reasoned that by analyzing this particular module, we might identify small molecules targeting the yeast pathway that also act as angiogenesis inhibitors suitable for chemotherapy. This insight led to the finding that thiabendazole, an orally available antifungal drug in clinical use for 40 years, also potently inhibits angiogenesis in animal models and in human cells. Moreover, in vivo time-lapse imaging revealed that thiabendazole reversibly disassembles newly established blood vessels, marking it as vascular disrupting agent (VDA) and thus as a potential complementary therapeutic for use in combination with current anti-angiogenic therapies. Importantly, we also show that thiabendazole slows tumor growth and decreases vascular density in preclinical fibrosarcoma xenografts. Thus, an exploration of the evolutionary repurposing of gene networks has led directly to the identification of a potential new therapeutic application for an inexpensive drug that is already approved for clinical use in humans.
Author Summary
Yeast cells and vertebrate blood vessels would not seem to have much in common. However, we have discovered that during the course of evolution, a group of proteins whose function in yeast is to maintain cell walls has found an alternative use in vertebrates regulating angiogenesis. This remarkable repurposing of the proteins during evolution led us to hypothesize that, despite the different functions of the proteins in humans compared to yeast, drugs that modulated the yeast pathway might also modulate angiogenesis in humans and in animal models. One compound seemed a particularly promising candidate for this sort of approach: thiabendazole (TBZ), which has been in clinical use as a systemic antifungal and deworming treatment for 40 years. Gratifyingly, our study shows that TBZ is indeed able to act as a vascular disrupting agent and an angiogenesis inhibitor. Notably, TBZ also slowed tumor growth and decreased vascular density in human tumors grafted into mice. TBZ’s historical safety data and low cost make it an outstanding candidate for translation to clinical use as a complement to current anti-angiogenic strategies for the treatment of cancer. Our work demonstrates how model organisms from distant branches of the evolutionary tree can be exploited to arrive at a promising new drug.
doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001379
PMCID: PMC3423972  PMID: 22927795
2.  A General RNA Motif for Cellular Transfection 
Molecular Therapy  2012;20(3):616-624.
We have developed a selection scheme to generate nucleic acid sequences that recognize and directly internalize into mammalian cells without the aid of conventional delivery methods. To demonstrate the generality of the technology, two independent selections with different starting pools were performed against distinct target cells. Each selection yielded a single highly functional sequence, both of which folded into a common core structure. This internalization signal can be adapted for use as a general purpose reagent for transfection into a wide variety of cell types including primary cells.
doi:10.1038/mt.2011.277
PMCID: PMC3294222  PMID: 22233578
3.  Inhibition of Cell Proliferation by an Anti-EGFR Aptamer 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(6):e20299.
Aptamers continue to receive interest as potential therapeutic agents for the treatment of diseases, including cancer. In order to determine whether aptamers might eventually prove to be as useful as other clinical biopolymers, such as antibodies, we selected aptamers against an important clinical target, human epidermal growth factor receptor (hEGFR). The initial selection yielded only a single clone that could bind to hEGFR, but further mutation and optimization yielded a family of tight-binding aptamers. One of the selected aptamers, E07, bound tightly to the wild-type receptor (Kd = 2.4 nM). This aptamer can compete with EGF for binding, binds to a novel epitope on EGFR, and also binds a deletion mutant, EGFRvIII, that is commonly found in breast and lung cancers, and especially in grade IV glioblastoma multiforme, a cancer which has for the most part proved unresponsive to current therapies. The aptamer binds to cells expressing EGFR, blocks receptor autophosphorylation, and prevents proliferation of tumor cells in three-dimensional matrices. In short, the aptamer is a promising candidate for further development as an anti-tumor therapeutic. In addition, Aptamer E07 is readily internalized into EGFR-expressing cells, raising the possibility that it might be used to escort other anti-tumor or contrast agents.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0020299
PMCID: PMC3110755  PMID: 21687663

Results 1-3 (3)