Synthetic Molecules Carrying Salt Kill Cancer Cells

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New findings published in the journal Nature Chemistry suggest the possibility of the creation of new anticancer drugs using synthetic ion transporters. Researchers from around the world created molecule-carrying sodium and chloride ions that can cause cancer cell death.


According to Philip Gale, MA, DPhil, of the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, the chloride transporters and sodium channels work simultaneously to cause an influx of sodium and chloride into a cancer cell, resulting in apoptosis.


Human cells maintain a stable concentration of mostly sodium and chloride ions in the extracellular fluid and potassium, magnesium, and phosphate ions in the intracellular fluid. By altering the carefully controlled ion balance of normal cells, one can trigger a cell to self-destruct.


This method, however, does not hold up for cancer cells, which change the way they transport ions across the cell membrane, thereby blocking apoptosis. Jonathan Sessler, PhD, of the Colleges of Natural Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin in Austin, Texas, designed synthetic ion transporters that bind to chloride ions and allow the chloride transporters to pass through the cell membrane via the sodium channels and, as a result, cause an influx of sodium. The altered ion concentrations of the cancer cells then triggered apoptosis.

Synthetic Molecules Carrying Salt Kill Cancer Cells
A molecule can cause cancer cells to self-destruct by carrying sodium and chloride ions.

Researchers from the University of Southampton are part of an international team that has helped to create a molecule that can cause cancer cells to self-destruct by carrying sodium and chloride ions into the cells.

Synthetic ion transporters have been created before, but this is the first time researchers have demonstrated how an influx of salt into a cell triggers cell death.

These synthetic ion transporters, described in the journal Nature Chemistry, could point the way to new anticancer drugs while also benefitting patients with cystic fibrosis. Study co-author Professor Philip Gale, of the University of Southampton, says: "This work shows how chloride transporters can work with sodium channels in cell membranes to cause an influx of salt into a cell. We found we can trigger cell death with salt."

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