Discovery of how cancer drugs find their targets could lead to a new toolset for drug development

June 18th, 2020 | Whitehead Institute

Researchers in Richard Young’s lab at Whitehead Institute and collaborators have discovered how certain cancer therapeutics concentrate within cells — a finding that could change the way scientists think about drug design.

In the watery inside of a cell, complex processes take place in tiny functional compartments called organelles. Energy-producing mitochondria are organelles, as is the frilly golgi apparatus, which helps to transport cellular materials. Both of these compartments are bound by thin membranes.

But in the past few years, research at Whitehead Institute and elsewhere has shown that there are other cellular organelles held together without a membrane. These organelles, called condensates, are tiny droplets which keep certain proteins close together amidst the chaos of the cell, allowing complex functions to take place within. “We know of about 20 types of condensate in the cell so far,” says Isaac Klein, a postdoc in Richard Young’s lab at Whitehead Institute and oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Now, in a paper published in Science on June 19, Klein and Ann Boija, another postdoc in Young’s lab, show the mechanism by which small molecules, including cancer drugs, are concentrated in these cellular droplets — a finding that could have implications for the development of new cancer therapeutics. If researchers could tailor a chemical to seek out and concentrate in one kind of droplet in particular, it might have a positive effect on the delivery efficiency of the drug. “We thought, maybe that’s an avenue by which we can improve cancer treatments and discover new ones,” says Klein…

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