A new study by scientists at the University of Southern California and Nagoya University has revealed an experimental new drug can stop cancer cells from growing by disrupting their internal circadian clock. The novel cancer-battling concept has only been tested in mice but it suggests an entirely new technique to stifle growth in this devastatingly prolific disease.

Our body’s biological clock is primarily regulated by the brain, however, recent research has suggested many other cells in the body contain their own independent circadian rhythms. It has been shown that disruptions in the body’s overall circadian rhythms can increase a person’s risk for a variety of diseases, so an international team of scientists wondered if circadian rhythms could be modulated to turn against cancer and disrupt its growth.

“In some cancers, the disease takes over the circadian clock mechanism and uses it for the evil purpose of helping itself grow,” explains Steve Kay, one of the researchers on the new study.

The research led the scientists to discover a molecule called GO289. This compound inhibits expression of a protein called CK2, which is known to promote cancer cell growth, but it also was discovered to lengthen the circadian period in a given cell. One of the unique features of GO289 was that it seemed to selectively disrupt the growth of cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.

Testing the compound on human bone and kidney cancer cells revealed it effectively disrupted the cell’s internal circadian clock. GO289 was also tested on mice with acute myeloid leukemia and cancer cell growth was seen to be significantly reduced. All this affirms an interesting link between cellular circadian rhythms and cancer growth.

It is still incredibly early days for this research, and there is no information suggesting this particular new drug will be effectively transferable to humans, or even safe for that matter. However, as a proof-of-concept work, this presents an amazing new strategy in the battle against cancer, and Steve Kay is optimistic about future research pathways.

“This could become an effective new weapon that kills cancer,” says Kay.

The new study was published in the journal Science Advances.

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