A set of natural compounds to burn cancer cells

Cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the world. Photodynamic therapy is a two-stage treatment that combines light energy with a drug (photosensitizer) designed to destroy cancerous cells after light activation. Finding new photosensitizers could be an interesting opportunity to treat certain severe cancers for which no effective treatments yet exist.


The discovery of a chlorin unknown until now

One year ago, by studying Pacific brittle stars (see the Figure below), researchers from the laboratory of Prof. Vladimir Katanaev discovered, in the brittle star Ophiura sarsii, a new chlorin compound able to work as a photosensitizer. They demonstrated that this new compound called ETPA can accumulate in cancer cells and “burn” them upon light exposure.


A set of anti-cancer compounds to burn cancer cells

Encouraged by these motivating results, the scientists decided to search for other chlorin compounds. In addition to the brittle star they studied initially, they investigated two other species, a deep-water brittle star Ophiura ooplax and a more distant relative, the basket star Gorgonocephalus cf. eucnemis. As described in their recent paper in Antioxidants, their investigations revealed five supplementary natural compounds (general structure visible in the Figure below) with strong photo-toxicity that could also potentially be used to fight cancer.



Five new chlorid compounds with the general structure in white were discovered in Pacific brittle stars. © Graphical abstract from Klimenko et al. 2023 in Antioxidants


What’s next?

Researchers aim now to decipher the molecular mechanisms by which these chlorin compounds kill cancer cells, in order to open new perspectives for the photodynamic therapy of some cancers.



20 Mar 2023